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July 27, 2011

Mubarak Trial Carries Many Uncertainties for Nervous Egypt

by Al Pessin

Egypt’s deposed President Hosni Mubarak is scheduled to go on trial August 3 on corruption and murder charges related to his 30-year tenure and the crackdown on protesters during the revolution that ousted him in January and February.  The trial is an important step for Egypt, but also carries many uncertainties.

Egypt’s 18-day revolution was mostly peaceful.  But as the huge daily protests began to threaten to bring down the government, police and troops reacted with violence.

By the time Mr. Mubarak handed over power to a military council, anger was running high.  And it still is.

The anger spilled over into a violent clash July 23rd between supporters of the interim military government and protesters who say reforms are not happening quickly enough.


But state media quote Egypt's deputy justice minister as saying the trial will begin August 3, and be held at Cairo's convention center.

Those protesters marched out from the ongoing sit-in at Tahrir Square, the center of the revolution, where emotions still run high.

“There is a lot of things to be judged, a lot of things for those people to be convicted for, but there is nothing at all," said a protester. "They are just delaying the trials.  Delay, delays, delays.”

"We didn’t see justice," said another. "My friends die here but we didn’t see justice."

There is speculation the trial might be postponed because Mr. Mubarak has been ill.

But analysts say that would be a mistake.  Professor Saad Eddin Ibrahim has written about Egyptian society for decades and was jailed several times for speaking out against the Mubarak regime.

“A trial under the public eye would itself serve a great, shall we say, cathartic function," said  Professor Ibrahim. "It will absorb a great deal of the tension that we have seen recently.”

But Professor Ibrahim is concerned that Egypt’s current military leaders may be reluctant to see their former boss in a defendant’s cage and, potentially, sentenced to death.

“Having appointed them, having them think of him as one of their senior colleagues," he said. "He was their commander in chief.  I don’t they’d like to see him humiliated because that reflects on the whole military.”

It’s a delicate balance for the top military officers -  satisfying people’s demands for justice while also safeguarding their own positions.

And editor Rania al-Malky of Daily News Egypt says there’s another issue.  She believes the Egyptian leaders are also under pressure from autocratic regimes elsewhere in the region, several of which have also faced large-scale protests.

“He would be the first Arab dictator ever to face this situation, I think, in the history of this region," said al-Malky. "So this is setting a very dangerous precedent maybe for other leaders who are afraid for themselves.”

But veteran journalist Hisham Kassem says there is more at stake than Mr. Mubarak's fate, or that of other leaders in the region.

“My real concern is that due process is observed because as we enter a new republic we have to uphold rule of law," said Kassem. "And Mubarak must get fair trial.
So, it mustn’t be a question of revenge, of getting back at Mubarak.”

People on Tahrir Square would like revenge, or at least justice, and they want it in a Mubarak trial starting Wednesday, as scheduled.  

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