CAIRO — A court session to retry former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak ended abruptly Saturday when the judge handed the case back to an appeals court. Mubarak was sentenced to life in prison last year in a case that was later overturned by another court.
Presiding Judge Mustafa Hassan Abdullah told the trial session that he was recusing himself and handing Mubarak's case back to an appeals court.
A loud clamor overtook the courtroom after the abrupt decision and some protesters chanted slogans against the former president. The reaction, however, was muted compared to trial sessions last year, when supporters and opponents of Mubarak threw bottles and spat at each other in the courtroom.
The former president, dressed in a white track suit and looking confident, waved at supporters before the session got under way. He was surrounded in the dock by his two sons and several former aides, who are also on trial.
Outside the police academy, where the court session was being held, brief skirmishes broke out between supporters of the former president and a group of opponents. Police quickly broke up clashes, which were fairly minor compared to previous incidents.
A verdict to convict former President Mubarak in a first trial last year was overturned by an appellate court. Mubarak received a life sentence for failing to protect protesters against violence during an uprising which overthrew him.
Veteran Egyptian editor and publisher Hisham Kassem points out that the initial case that convicted the former president was weak due to procedural issues.
"We have a case that is very shabby procedurally," he said. "Very little evidence has been submitted. Clearly a crime has been committed, but a judge needs evidence to be presented. Otherwise, he would have to violate due process... and this was clearly the case in the first verdict, where the judge sentenced him for failing to protect the demonstrators, as opposed to giving out orders to murder them."
Kassem says that Judge Abdullah may have recused himself because he is nearing retirement and the Mubarak case may have appeared long and daunting. It is not immediately clear what the Egyptian judiciary will do with the case from here.
Mubarak is being held at a military hospital in a Cairo suburb. A small crowd of supporters chanted slogans as a helicopter brought him back from the court.
Hisham Kassem notes that Mubarak had a big smile on his face "as if to say, 'are you happy now? If you did not like my [way of ruling], I hope you like President [Mohamed] Morsi's.'"