Many See Politics, Not Justice, In Mubarak Verdict

Jun 2, 2012
Originally published on June 2, 2012 4:49 pm

Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was sentenced to life in prison Saturday for his role in killing protesters during the revolution that ousted him from power.

A hushed courtroom listened as the head judge read the verdict: guilty of accessory to murder and attempted murder. Mubarak lay motionless on a hospital gurney inside a courtroom cage, his only noticeable emotion being the slight quivering of his lips.

This was the moment many Egyptians had waited for. They hoped a conviction would bring them closure to a brutal era. Instead, it brought a mix of disappointment, anger and ultimately, joy.

Outside the courthouse, scores cheered and fireworks crackled overhead. Relatives and friends of the people he was convicted of killing rejoiced, even though the former president and his interior minister didn't get the death sentence many here had hoped for.

The reaction of Mubarak supporters was equally strong.

They yelled, cried and beat their chests outside the courthouse. Dozens scuffled with riot police who tried to keep them from attacking anti-Mubarak protesters and journalists.

Inside the courtroom, stunned silence quickly turned to anger.

Scuffles broke out. Civil rights lawyers shouted for the judges to be fired for acquitting six security officers who were on trial with Mubarak and were also accused of playing a part in the deaths of the protesters. Many Egyptians told NPR they were also not pleased that Mubarak and his two sons, Alaa and Gamal, were acquitted of corruption charges.

Crowds of protesters quickly poured into Tahrir Square to voice their displeasure. Ahmed Aggour, a 24-year-old tutor, accused the ruling generals of manipulating the trial to keep people calm for the upcoming presidential runoff.

"They're actually trying to play it smart," Aggour says. "They say we're going to give him 25 years in prison, and that's going to make a lot of people think that you know, maybe it's OK, he's an old man. Because they knew they couldn't acquit him from all of his charges, because that would have set the entire country on fire."

Some analysts here predict Saturday's outcome — particularly the acquittal of former Interior Minister Habib al-Adli and the security officials — could lead to Mubarak's sentence being overturned on appeal.

"The political signal that this sends is chilling. I mean, this is the hard core of the notorious Ministry of Interior," says social anthropologist Reem Saad, who heads the Middle East Studies Center at the American University in Cairo. "These are not any six people. These people may just go back to work and they will come back with vengeance."

The political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood — which controls nearly half the seats in parliament — called for a new trial.

But others, including Ahmed Shafiq, say justice was done. Shafiq was Mubarak's last prime minister and is in the presidential runoff against the Muslim Brotherhood candidate. He contends that finding the security officers not guilty does not mean that the government condones bad police behavior.

As to the court, head judge Ahmed Refaat did not cite reasons for the rulings. Refaat instead talked of his commitment to apply the law fairly no matter who was brought before him.

After the sentencing, the country's top prosecutor ordered Mubarak transferred to Tora Prison in Cairo from the hospital where he has been staying.

A short while later, state media outlets reported that Mubarak suffered a "health crisis," on the way, which delayed the transfer. When he does enter prison, officials say he will be in a special cell designed to accommodate the ex-president's medical needs.

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GUY RAZ, HOST:

It's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz. As we just heard, an Egyptian court has sentenced former President Hosni Mubarak to a life term. The court said he failed to halt the killings of protestors during the revolution that ousted him from power. His hated interior minister suffered the same fate. Both men say they will appeal. Still, many Egyptians expressed disappointment with the verdict. From Cairo, NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson has more.

AHMED REFAAT: (Foreign language spoken)

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: As he lay on a hospital gurney inside a courtroom cage, Hosni Mubarak's only reaction to the verdict was a faint quivering of his lips. Outside the courthouse, relatives and friends of the people he's convicted of killing were far more emotional.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

NELSON: Scores cheered and set off fireworks, even though the former president and his interior minister didn't get the death sentence many here had hoped for. The reaction of Mubarak supporters was equally strong.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD SHOUTING)

NELSON: They yelled and beat their chests outside the courthouse. Dozens scuffled with riot police who tried to keep them from attacking anti-Mubarak protestors and journalists. Inside the courtroom, stunned silence quickly turned to anger.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHANTING)

NELSON: Civil rights lawyers shouted for the judges to be fired for acquitting six security officers who were on trial with Mubarak and were also accused of playing a part in the deaths of the protestors. Many Egyptians tell NPR they were also not pleased that Mubarak and his two sons Alaa and Gamal were acquitted of corruption charges.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHANTING)

NELSON: Throngs of protestors quickly poured into Tahrir Square here to voice their displeasure. One was Ahmed Aggour. The 24-year-old tutor accused the ruling generals of manipulating the trial to keep people calm for the upcoming presidential runoff.

AHMED AGGOUR: They're actually trying to play it smart. They say, we'll give him 25 years in prison. And that's going to make a lot of people think that, you know, maybe it's okay. He's an old man. They knew they could not acquit him from all of his charges because that would have set the entire country on fire, like, literally.

NELSON: Some analysts here predict today's outcome, especially the acquittal of the security officials, could lead to Mubarak's sentence being overturned on appeal. Social anthropologist Reem Saad heads the Middle East Studies Center at the American University in Cairo.

REEM SAAD: The political signal that this sends is chilling. This is the hard core of the notorious Ministry of Interior. These are not any six people. These people may just go back to work, and they will come back with vengeance.

NELSON: The political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, which controls nearly half the seats in parliament, called for a new trial, but others, including Ahmed Shafiq who was Mubarak's last prime minister and who's running in the presidential runoff, says justice was done. As to the court, the head judge did not cite reasons for the rulings.

REFAAT: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: Judge Ahmed Refaat instead talked of his commitment to apply the law fairly no matter who was brought before him. After the sentencing, the country's top prosecutor ordered Mubarak transferred to Tora Prison in Cairo from the hospital where he has been staying. A short while later, state media outlets reported that Mubarak suffered a, quote, "health crisis" on the way which delayed the transfer. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Cairo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.