Egypt braces for verdict in Mubarak trial

Cairo court expected to rule on Saturday on charges against former Egyptian president and his two sons.

    Egypt braces for verdict in Mubarak trial
    The verdict will cap off a year-long trial, though it could still be followed by lengthy appeals [EPA]

    Cairo - Ask anyone about the news here and you are likely to get into a heated conversation about the upcoming runoff in this month's presidential election, or about the gasoline shortages which have gripped the country all week.

    But there is surprisingly little talk about the upcoming verdict in former president Hosni Mubarak’s trial, which is expected on Saturday.

    The trial seems to have slipped out of the public consciousness; the last hearing was in February, when the judges recessed the trial and promised a verdict in June.

    "I still need to find gasoline, and the trial won't change that," said Mahmoud al-Shafi, a taxi driver waiting to fill his tank in a long queue at a gas station on Thursday night.

    The trial was even a minor issue for some of the roughly 500 protesters who marched to Tahrir Square on Friday on a swelteringly hot day in the Egyptian capital.

    The protest was aimed at Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak’s last prime minister and one of the two candidates in the runoff, and there was little talk about the trial.

    "One, two, we demand disenfranchisement," protesters chanted, referring to a recently-passed law which bans former high-level officials such as Shafiq from running for office.

    Egypt’s high court will decide on June 11 whether the law is constitutional.

    There were also anti-Shafiq protests in Port Said, Suez and several other cities; a rally in Alexandria attracted more than 7,000 people, according to the AP news agency.

    Activists passed out flyers titled "to catch a felool," an Arabic word referring to "remnants" of the old regime; the flyers detailed Shafiq’s ties to Mubarak and his alleged corruption during his tenure as aviation minister.

    One man held a poster accusing Shafiq, along with Mubarak, of "signing the death sentences" for protesters killed during the revolution. "We had a popular revolution," one man grumbled. "What happened?"

    But there was also little support for Mohammed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate and the other man in the runoff.

    Many of the protesters were supporters of Hamdeen Sabahi, the leftist candidate who was placed third in last month’s vote.

    He has since refused to endorse either Shafiq or Morsi. So many of his backers have settled on a third option: boycotting the election.

    "Why? Because what else is there?" said Gamal Ezz el-Din, a volunteer handing out pro-boycott stickers. "Ahmed Shafiq is unacceptable. Mohammed Morsi is unacceptable. What to do?"

    Murder charge

    Shafiq has escaped prosecution for his ties to the Mubarak regime, despite the persistent allegations of corruption.

    More than a dozen other high-ranking officials have been placed on trial; some, including his longtime chief of staff and the former finance and trade ministers, have already been convicted and sentenced to prison terms.

    A protester in Tahrir Square, left, holds a sign blaming Shafiq for the deaths of protesters [Al Jazeera]

    Mubarak himself has been charged with murder.

    Prosecutors accused him of ordering his security forces to use live ammunition against peaceful protesters during last year’s revolution, a charge which could carry the death penalty.

    He also faces several counts of corruption related to his dealings with Hussein Salem, a well-connected businessman currently jailed in Spain awaiting a possible extradition.

    The court is also expected to rule on murder charges against Habib al-Adly, Mubarak’s longtime interior minister, and on corruption charges leveled against Mubarak’s two sons, Gamal and Alaa.

    Adly has already been convicted of profiteering in a separate trial involving a contract to purchase new license plates, and the former president's sons will face charges of stock market fraud in a separate trial later this year.

    'They won’t hang him'

    The Mubarak trial was a dramatic moment when it began in August.

    The man once dubbed "the Pharaoh" was wheeled into the courtroom on a hospital bed; his plea was the first time most Egyptians had seen him speak since the revolution. "I deny all of these accusations completely," he told the judge.

    But the process was quickly bogged down by delays, including a three-month recess while a separate court considered a motion to dismiss Ahmed Refaat, the presiding judge, because of accusations of bias. The motion was dismissed in December.

    Few Egyptians seem to expect a death sentence for the former president.

    "They won’t hang him," one man in Tahrir Square argued, referring to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, Egypt’s military rulers since the revolution. "They don’t want to anger anyone. They’ll just send him to jail."

    Several protesters in the square said that a quick execution would be "too good" for the man they blame for Egypt’s myriad woes.

    The court could find him guilty only of corruption, charges which carry a sentence of between three and seven years, or reduce the sentence on the murder charge. Either way, the ruling will almost certainly be followed by lengthy appeals.

    The court could simply delay the verdict, though legal experts doubt it will, and the next president could also choose to pardon Mubarak for his crimes.

    Many Egyptians expect Shafiq would do exactly that; Morsi, meanwhile, in a bid for revolutionary votes, has promised to keep Mubarak in prison forever.

    "I just hope it ends," said Wagdy Abdelrahman, gesturing to the protesters who were blocking traffic in Tahrir, as if the verdict would end popular protests in Egypt. "Haram. They’re blocking the square."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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