Egypt’s deposed president, Hosni Mubarak, wheeled into a Cairo courtroom in a hospital bed, has pleaded not guilty to charges that he ordered the killing of some 850 revolutionary protesters who drove him from power in an 18-day February uprising. After Wednesday’s dramatic session, the judge in the case adjourned the trial until August 15.
The 83-year-old former president, who also is charged with corruption, is the first Arab leader to face trial in person since the so-called “Arab Spring” of popular revolts swept across much of North Africa and the Middle East this year.
Mr. Mubarak’s two sons, Alaa and Gamal – co-defendants in the case – stood next to their father inside the courtroom’s large metal cage and spoke with him during the opening session. Both men denied separate corruption charges against them. Other defendants include Mr. Mubarak’s former interior minister, Habib al-Adly, six senior police commanders and a prominent businessman (Hussein Salem), who is being tried in absentia. They are scheduled to appear before the court again Thursday.
Mr. Mubarak, al-Adly and the six policemen could be sentenced to death if convicted. The former president also is charged with abuse of power and squandering public wealth.
The trial took an unexpected turn when Mr. Mubarak’s lawyers requested that the head of the military council now ruling Egypt, a former intelligence chief and 1,600 others testify. They argued that Egypt’s army chief and head of state, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, effectively “took control” of the country after January 28, when troops were deployed in the streets of Cairo.
News channels around the world broadcast the start of the historic trial. Tens of millions throughout the Arab world watched the spectacle on live television, including many Egyptians who saw their ruler of nearly 30 years clad in a prisoner’s white robes and reclining on a gurney.
Crowds also gathered outside the courthouse to watch on a large television screen. At one point, supporters and opponents of Mr. Mubarak threw rocks at one another.
Egypt’s judiciary moved the location of the trial to the Cairo Police Academy for security reasons.
The former president had been living under house arrest with his family at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, where aides say he has been in poor health since leaving office. At the close of Wednesday’s session, the judge ordered that Mr. Mubarak stay at a local hospital in Cairo for the duration of the proceedings.
The trial came only after heavy pressure from activists on Egypt’s ruling military council. Up to the last minute, many Egyptians had doubted Mr. Mubarak would actually appear in court, expecting health issues would be used as an excuse for him to stay away.