Plane carrying Mubarak lands in Cairo
Cairo – Former President Hosni Mubarak was flown to Cairo on Wednesday from the Red Sea resort where he has lived since his ouster six months ago for the start of his historic trial on charges of corruption and ordering the killing of protesters during Egypt’s uprising.
Outside the trial venue, scuffles broke out between hundreds of supporters and opponents of the ex-president. In a chaotic scene, hundreds of policemen in gleaming white uniforms and riot police with shields and helmets separated demonstrators hurling stones and bottles at each other.
Security officials, who asked not to be named because they were not authorised to talk to the media, said Mubarak’s plane landed at a military airport in Cairo and he was to be flown with his medical team by helicopter to the trial venue. Mubarak, who ruled with unquestioned power for 29 years, is expected to appear during the trial sitting in a cage set up for him and his co-defendants.
Security was extremely heavy outside the courtroom, which has been set up in what was once named the Mubarak Police Academy in the capital Cairo.
Before the clashes erupted, some 50 of Mubarak’s supporters chanting slogans and holding portraits of the former leader gathered outside the venue.
“We will demolish and burn the prison if they convict Mubarak,” they screamed at hundreds of police and army troops backed by armoured personnel carriers.
The ailing, 83-year-old Mubarak has lived in Sharm since he was toppled on February 11 and has been under arrest in a hospital there since April. Doctors say he suffers from heart problems. There had been scepticism up to the moment Mubarak left the hospital for the airport in a six-car convoy that he would actually appear for the opening of his trial.
Mubarak, his former Interior Minister Habib el-Adly, and six top police officers are charged with murder and attempted murder in connection with the 850 protesters killed during the uprising, according to the official charge sheet. All eight could face the death penalty if convicted.
Separately, Mubarak and his two sons – one-time heir apparent Gamal and wealthy businessman Alaa – face charges of corruption. The two sets of charges have been lumped together in one mass trial.
The trial answers, at least partially, a growing clamour in Egypt for justice not only for the wrongs of Mubarak’s authoritarian regime but also for the violent suppression of largely peaceful protests during the 18-day uprising. It came only after heavy pressure by activists — one of the few demands that still unites the disparate protest movement.
For weeks after his fall, while Mubarak lived in a palace in Sharm el-Sheikh, the ruling generals who took power from him – and who were all appointed by Mubarak before the uprising – appeared reluctant to prosecute him.
Their hand forced, the generals now seem eager to show the public that they are bringing the fruits of the revolution. The trial will be televised live on state TV, and judges say proceedings will be expedited, without long postponements. The around 600 people attending are expected to include relatives of some of the 850 protesters killed during the uprising.
Security is very heavy, with barbed wire and hundreds of troops around the compound. Efforts have been made to ensure spectators in the court can’t get close enough to the defendants’ cage to yell and throw objects at them, the Interior Ministry said.
Many Egyptians are eagerly anticipating the chance at retribution against the longtime ruler. But they also question whether the trial will truly break with the injustices of the past. Some worry that Egypt’s new military rulers are touting the trial as proof that democratic reform has been accomplished, even as activists argue that far deeper change is still needed.
The prosecution is an unprecedented moment in the Arab world, the first time a modern Mideast leader has been put on trial fully by his own people.
The closest event to it was former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s trial, but his capture came at the hands of U.S. troops in 2003 and his special tribunal was set up with extensive consultation with American officials and international experts. Tunisia’s deposed president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, has been tried and convicted several times since his fall several weeks before Mubarak’s, but all in absentia and he remains in exile in Saudi Arabia.
Up until Mubarak was moved from his hospital early on Wednesday morning, there had been heavy skepticism that he would actually show. It was thought that he might be exempted for health reasons, after weeks of reports of his worsening condition from the Sharm hospital where he has been held in custody.
If he had not shown, it could have triggered another upheaval of rancorous protests.
For the military, the trial is a chance to try to strengthen its position.
The broader public has grown discontented with the breakdown in security around the country and faltering economy since the uprising began.
Youth groups that led the uprising have continued protests against the military, saying they are fumbling the transition to civilian rule and have not moved to dismantle remnants of Mubarak’s regime still in place. The military itself has been tainted by reports of human rights violations, including torture.
The generals have tried to turn the public against activists, accusing them of receiving foreign funds and training. On Monday, tensions were hiked when troops broke up a 3-week-old sit-in in Tahrir Square by hard-core protesters.
Prosecuting Mubarak is widely popular among a public angered by widespread corruption, police abuses and his lock on political power. Regime opponents, whether Islamists or pro-democracy activists, are eager for retribution after years of crackdowns and torture against them.
The question is whether it will mean a real uprooting of the system he headed.
Mubarak was placed under arrest in April but was admitted to the Sharm hospital for a heart condition, sparing him the indignity of detention in Cairo’s Torah Prison, where his sons and some three dozen former regime figures have been held.
Media reports have spoken of Mubarak refusing to eat and suffering from depression. On Monday, state television said the most recent tests showed his health was “relatively stable” given his age but that his psychological condition was worsening.
But Health Minister Amr Helmy said last week that Mubarak was fit to travel to Cairo to stand trial.