Egyptians Ready To See Mubarak Put On Trial

Aug 2, 2011

Less than six months after he was toppled, former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is scheduled to go on trial Wednesday, and a guilty verdict could bring the death penalty.

Mubarak, who ruled Egypt for 30 years, is charged with multiple crimes that include corruption and ordering the killing of hundreds of protesters while he struggled to put down a popular uprising.

State television will broadcast the proceedings live, a show that is sure to grip the nation. That is, if it begins as scheduled — or at all.

His lawyer has been saying the former president, who is 83, is not well enough to be moved to Cairo from his hospital bed in the seaside resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. There have been reports that he is too frail, that he has been refusing food, and that he is too depressed to be moved.

Despite these reports, it is not difficult to find Egyptians who want to see him stand trial. At a huge demonstration in Tahrir Square last week, the sentiment against Mubarak was overwhelming. One man who would identify himself only as Ashraf, a 41-year-old businessman, said of course he wants to see Mubarak in the dock.

"I think that we have to judge very quickly the old government, especially the president, Hosni Mubarak," he said.

In Egyptian trials, defendants are often placed in a cage when they are brought to the courtroom. That's how Mubarak could very well be displayed to the world at his trial, and it is has been suggested that could enflame tensions in an already tense Egypt.

Ahmad Sami, a 25-year-old pharmacist and activist for the Muslim Brotherhood, said so be it.

"Yes, it might enflame political tension, but I don't believe that Mubarak has real supporters in Egypt. They were just a group of robbers and a group of businessmen who was just having a benefit with him. But now he's gone," he said.

In fact, it was nearly impossible to find anyone in the crowd at Tahrir Square who did not want to see Mubarak put on trial. "It should have happened already" was a common refrain.

'Very Important On An Emotional Level'

It's a crucial moment in the evolution of political change in Egypt, said Elijah Zarwan, a senior analyst for the International Crisis Group.

"I think for many people ... seeing Mubarak in the cage for the accused in the courtroom is very important on an emotional level, to feel that the revolution has succeeded, that the previous regime will not come back, and to feel that the Egyptian people have succeeded in taking control of their own destiny," he said.

Several others are also on trial along with Mubarak. His two sons, Gamal and Alaa, are facing corruption charges.

And former Interior Minister Habib al-Adly and his top aides have also been charged with murder in connection with the killing of protesters during the huge demonstrations that ousted Mubarak in February.

It is not yet clear how the prosecution intends to make its case against Mubarak. So far, no evidence has emerged publicly that demonstrates Mubarak actually ordered the security forces to fire on the protesters in the streets.

Skepticism Over Government's Commitment

Many Egyptians don't believe Mubarak's trial will actually be held. They think that it will be postponed at the last minute because the military leaders who are in charge of Egypt's government right now were essential players in the old regime — and hardly eager, said Zarwan, to see their old boss put on trial.

"Putting Mubarak on trial may have been a necessity because of the popular pressure from the state. It was certainly something that the military appeared not to want to do. The military wanted to let Mubarak retire with dignity," he said.

"Keeping the focus on the trial, however, distracts from the kind of deep, difficult and systematic reforms that are going to be necessary for Egypt to move to the next stage," Zarwan added.

That's a commonly held view in Egypt. Hossam el-Hamalawy, a journalist and activist, is convinced the generals don't really want to hold this trial.

"If it was left for the generals and left for the transitional government, probably they would not have tried Mubarak at all, and they would have waited patiently until he dies so as to get out of this awkward, embarrassing situation for them," he said.

Verdict 'Settled In The Streets'?

But like many Egyptians, el-Hamalawy said the pressure coming from the streets and from various political parties and groups to try Mubarak now is irresistible.

"At the end of the day, this is a political trial, and I think the verdict will be settled in the streets, not inside the court cage," he said.

If the case is settled in the streets, there is little doubt about the verdict, said Nihel, a young housewife who preferred that she be identified by only her first name.

"Everyone who made a mistake," said Nihel, "has to pay the price."

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.