By Elizabeth Arrott
Egyptian officials are making last-minute preparations for the televised trial of ex- President Hosni Mubarak, his two sons and several other former top officials. The possibility of the ex-leader facing justice is something many thought would never happen, and a few believe may still not.
Egyptian media have a long tradition of special dramatic programming for the month of Ramadan, but few broadcasts have been so anticipated as the trial of Mubarak set to begin Wednesday on the outskirts of Cairo.
“I personally will make sure that I am in front of a tv screen,” said publisher Hisham Kassem, a prominent critic of the former government. “I think it is going to have the highest viewership this country has had on tv and possibly regionally.”
If the trial goes according to script, Mubarak, his influential sons Gamal and Alaa, former Interior Minister Habib al-Adly and six security officials will appear in court locked in an iron cage.
They face charges of ordering the killing of more than 800 protesters during the uprising that forced the end of the Mubarak government in February, as well as massive financial corruption.
The possibility of the 83-year-old so humbled in a cage, customary in such trials, has prompted speculation it could provoke sympathy for the one-time military hero and ruler of Egypt for nearly 30 years.
But on the streets of Cairo, some argue the seriousness of the alleged crimes wipes away any such sentiments.
As the army this week cleared out the last remnants of another protest in Tahrir Square, one man nearby said he hoped Mubarak gets the strongest sentence possible – the death penalty.
“He killed many people,” he said. “He killed Egypt. He killed Egypt for thirty years. He was a big killer and a thief.”
But the Cairo resident says he’s worried that Mubarak might not even be there, depriving the spectacle of its key actor. Others worry that the trial could be postponed.
Aides to the former president contend he is very ill, and cannot move from the resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh where he retreated after the uprising. The government has given mixed signals about his attendance, but several top officials insist he will be present and say the massive security precautions around the temporary courtroom are proof of that intent.
Perceptions that the army leadership could yet still protect the Mubaraks, combined with frustrations at the slow pace of reforms and continued economic hardships, have chipped away at the military’s popularity in recent months.
But not all are distrustful. A motorist circling Tahrir, where the now-removed protesters had hoped to keep pressure on the government during the trial, stopped to say such demonstrations aren’t necessary.
He says he’s had enough with the protests, and argues it’s time to look after the country’s interests. He says the state has made it clear it intends to move forward, and points to the trial as an example. A soldier reinforces the idea of establishing order, scolding the driver for blocking traffic.
Publisher Kassem believes the court proceedings will provide a sense of relief, an indication that things are really changing, not just for Egyptians, but for people across the region.
“With the revolutionaries and the countries where there was uprising, it is going to be a serious boost for them seeing that one of the most powerful dictators in the region is finally behind bars and brought down by his own people,” he said.
Kassem has faith that the judiciary will act fairly during the trial, describing the judge as a man with a clean record, devoid of political-inclined rulings. And the decision of the military government to broadcast the proceedings means Kassem, and millions of others, can see if it stays on track.