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Why Mubarak's trial may not bring Egypt full justice [VIDEO]

Egyptians have pushed hard for a speedy trial of ousted President Hosni Mubarak, who appeared in a Cairo courthouse today. But key aspects of transitional justice are being overlooked.

By Kristen ChickCorrespondent / August 3, 2011

This video image taken from Egyptian State Television shows former President Hosni Mubarak laying on a hospital bed inside a cage of mesh and iron bars in a Cairo courtroom Wednesday Aug. 3, as his historic trial began on charges of corruption and ordering the killing of protesters during the uprising that ousted him.

Egyptian State TV/AP

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Cairo

Former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak appeared in court today for the first time, marking a milestone for Egypt as the authoritarian leader of three decades is tried for corruption and for ordering the killing of protesters who ultimately swept him from power.

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Mr. Mubarak’s speedy trial has been a key demand of protesters, and Egyptians watching on a large screen outside the compound where the trial is being held cheered when they saw their former ruler inside the metal cage used for defendants in Egyptian courts.

But amid tremendous public pressure for convictions, rights activists and justice experts both here and abroad warn that his trial, and trials of other former regime officials, are being conducted in a way that may do more to deny Egypt real justice than to implement it.

“With a very rapid trial, it's not just the accused who could lose, it's the victims. It's about whether that trial is going to expose what really happened. It's better to have justice quick, but the most important thing is to have real justice,” says Nicholas Koumjian, a lawyer whose experience trying war criminals includes serving as principal trial attorney in the case of former Liberian president Charles Taylor. “It's very important that any trials that take place are legitimate, so that people in 10-20 years say, 'Justice was done.' ”

Top issues hindering justice in post-revolution Egypt

The police and prosecution – from trial lawyers to the Justice Ministry – are holdovers from the Mubarak regime, and critics have called their investigations of former regime officials half-hearted. In some cases, the institutions bringing the case may be implicit in crimes they are investigating.

The cases being brought to trial are not comprehensive and far-reaching indictments of the Mubarak era, but instead focus on certain instances of corruption and killing.

And outside the courtroom, little progress has been made on other aspects of transitional justice, such as uncovering the truth, reparations for victims, and institutional reform.

“The police who are collecting evidence were appointed by Mubarak. The prosecution was fully penetrated by state security, and was involved in settling accounts with Mubarak opponents. Some judges complain that the files sent to them are almost empty," says Bahey el Din Hassan, director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS). "And most of these people are on trial just because of what they did in five days. But what about 30 years? What about 30 years of oppression, torture, disappearances, killing by torture? What about that?”

Whether state institutions are willing or able to bring a damning case against their former boss and his cronies is a key question. Judge Zaghloul El Belshi, deputy head of Egypt’s Court of Cassation, said it will be a difficult task.

“These cases require special investigative committees formed by very high-caliber judges,” he said at an event on transitional justice organized by CIHRS. Such committees have not been formed. “All the investigations have been tampered with by members of the old regime.”

Uncovering full truth necessary for closure, progress

If investigators aren't able to amass the necessary evidence to convict Mubarak and others accused, it could leave judges facing a choice between acquitting officials, denying the nation justice, and angering the masses, or issuing convictions not backed by evidence.

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