Jun 02 2012
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WSJ(6/2) Divided Egypt Awaits Verdict In Mubarak Trial
Saturday, Jun 02, 2012
(From THE WALL STREET JOURNAL)
By Matt Bradley
CAIRO -- The verdict in former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's murder and corruption trial is expected on Saturday, at an especially volatile moment in the country's transition from his reign.
A presidential vote that put Mr. Mubarak's last prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, in a head-to-head runoff in two weeks against the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi has carved deep rifts in Egypt.
Mr. Mubarak faces charges of complicity to murder, attempted murder and corruption that could merit punishments ranging from three years in jail to death by hanging.
Few attorneys expect the man who ruled Egypt for nearly three decades to hang. Prosecutors have relied on the reductive argument that as president, Mr. Mubarak had to have at least known about the use of deadly force against the more than 850 protesters who died during his final weeks in office.
As the prospect of a longtime Mubarak loyalist taking power has fueled public discontent with the election process and the judges who oversee it, some legal experts expect Judge Ahmed Rifaat to delay the Mubarak verdict until after the second-round election on June 16-17.
"Things are very sensitive now. You are waging two battles simultaneously. One is the election that people do not approve of, the other is the trial." said Osama Shaikal, a prosecuting attorney who is representing victims in the civil trial against Mr. Mubarak, which was run concurrently, in the same courtroom, as the criminal trial. "The results of both are unpredictable."
The verdict, when it comes, will be felt across the Arab world, which has been upended by successive uprisings over the past 18 months. Mr. Mubarak was the first Arab leader to be overthrown and face trial in front of his own people. Tunisia's ousted former president, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, was sentenced in absentia, getting 35 years in prison on corruption charges.
Egypt's military leadership is already girding for chaos. Some 160 tanks will back 20,000 police personnel to protect the courthouse, according to Egyptian media.
With Mr. Mubarak in the defendants' cage when the verdict is announced will be his two sons, Alaa and Gamal, his former interior minister, Habib al-Adly, and six senior police officers. Hussein Salem, a businessman with close connections to the former regime, faces corruption charges in absentia. Mr. Salem is awaiting extradition from Spain, where he was arrested last year after he fled Egypt.
All of the defendants faced prosecution at the same time, in the same court, against a mix of civil and criminal charges. In one example of the confusion dogging the case, some of the six police officers are accused of using excessive force against protesters while others are charged with dereliction of duty for allowing protesters to destroy public property.
The trial was rendered even more complex by the huge number of aggrieved parties. On the first day of the trial in August, more than 200 lawyers arrived in court to represent thousands of dead and injured protesters. Few of the attorneys had coordinated their arguments.
In front of the glare of the global media, prosecuting lawyers stumbled over each other, grappling for a chance to address the court.
Yet prosecutors say they handled a nearly impossible task well. Mr. Shaikal and other lawyers say they were ill-equipped to investigate crimes committed by officials in the Ministry of Interior -- the government organ normally tasked with providing prosecutors with evidence.
Videos of the violence in question were mysteriously taped over before the trial, said Heba Morayef, a researcher who followed the case for the New York-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch. Senior military officers, including Egypt's interim president and defense minister, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, offered secret testimony that attorneys said shed little light on who was responsible for firing live ammunition on protesters.
More worrying for victims' families have been the verdicts from 20 separate murder trials against police officers. The trials have so far yielded five acquittals and three convictions, all of which led only to suspended sentences without jail time, said Ms. Morayef. "It's a reflection of the fact that the balance of power hasn't shifted," she said.
Lara el Gibaly contributed to this article.
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
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