Egypt marked a historic first today when its former president, who ruled with an iron fist for nearly three decades, was wheeled on a gurney into a courtroom cage to stand trial.
Hundreds of Egyptians gathered outside the compound where the trial was held and burst into yells when they caught sight of him on the large screen where the proceedings were shown. “Thief! Thief!” some yelled. Others shouted, “Allahu akbar! (God is great!)” One man waved a noose in the air.
Hosni Mubarak, his two sons, and seven other defendants, including former Interior Minister Habib El Adly, face charges of killing protesters. The Mubaraks also face corruption charges.
“I never imagined this day would come,” said Mohamed Gomaa. Sweating in fierce sun, he wore a gray suit and carried a large photo of his younger brother, Hussein, who was killed by police during protests on Jan. 28, just a few months before he was to marry.
“It was Mubarak’s injustice that led him into this cage,” said Mr. Gomaa, referring to the metal enclosure used for all Egyptian defendants. “I feel satisfied, but not all the way, because the sentence will make us satisfied.”
The scene outside the courtroom was chaotic, as hundreds of Egyptians who had gathered to watch the proceedings in the blazing sun clashed with some who had come to support Mubarak. At least four times, the two sides began hurling rocks at each other only to stampede away as police in riot gear were sent in to separate them.
“The whole revolution was an American plot,” said one of the pro-Mubarak protesters, a young man who only gave his name as Ahmed. “Mubarak made some mistakes,” he said. “But we respect him.”
In the courtroom, Mubarak’s two sons, Alaa and Gamal, stood near the former president, both holding copies of the Quran and at times blocking him from sight of the camera. Gamal leaned over to whisper in the ear of Mubarak, who lay on the gurney throughout the entire hearing; his lawyer has said his health is frail. Each of them, one at a time, took a microphone and denied the charges against himself.
The trial was adjourned with Mr. Adly ordered to appear tomorrow, and Mubarak and his sons on Aug. 15. The length of the trial is unclear.
Today marked the first time Egyptians have seen Mubarak since he appeared on television Feb. 10 to announce he would not give up power, one day before he was forced to resign. His trial was held at what was formerly known as the Mubarak Police Academy. The massive white letters along the highway now say simply, Police Academy. It was here that he gave his last speech before the uprising, two days before protests began Jan 25.
Many had not expected him to show up, fearing that Egypt’s military rulers, who were themselves part of his former regime, would not put him on trial. During the proceedings, which were at times chaotic, Mubarak’s lawyer requested that Field Marshall Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, Mubarak’s former defense minister who is currently leading the country, and another top military general, testify during the trial, a sight that would be nearly as incredible as Mubarak’s presence in court.
Some took the request as a message from Mubarak that he will try to bring the military rulers down with him.
But outside, many were just glad to see him finally face justice.
“I’m so happy,” said university student Mohamed Said Khattab, who said he was so excited the night before the trial that he couldn’t sleep. “I was in Tahrir, and I saw people murdered beside me. I came here to see revenge.”
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