Egypt enthralled and appalled at sight of Mubarak in court

Relief and revulsion as country's former leader finally appears in court while his supporters and opponents clash outside.
Supporters of former president Hosni Mubarak clash with an anti-Mubarak protester (centre) outside the court in Cairo yesterday. Khaled Elfiqi / EPA
Supporters of former president Hosni Mubarak clash with an anti-Mubarak protester (centre) outside the court in Cairo yesterday. Khaled Elfiqi / EPA

CAIRO // Until the last moment, Mohamed Bakri said he was not even sure if Hosni Mubarak would show up to his own trial.

Watching the live broadcast of the first day of the trial yesterday in his apartment in Cairo, he said he felt relief as cameras trained in on Mr Mubarak lying on a stretcher with his two sons standing over him.

"It's a very important moment," said Mr Bakri, 47. "It was hard to believe he was actually there. In the last few weeks, people have been very depressed about what has been happening in Egypt."

He pointed to the violent ousting of protesters from Tahrir Square on Monday by the military as an event that has been making Egyptians increasingly uneasy that the uprising's achievements were at risk. He said the flat economy, political polarisation and delayed elections created a depressing atmosphere.

Egyptians crowded into cafes, kiosks, anywhere with a television to follow the trial. Traffic on Cairo's notoriously clogged streets thinned, as people in Egypt watched what many saw as history in the making.

Not everyone was pleased by Mr Mubarak's humiliation.

His supporters outside the court yesterday chanted, "Oh Mubarak hold your head high. We will demolish the prison and burn it down if Hosni Mubarak is sentenced".

For others, however, the start of a trial of some of the most villainised men in the country suggested that the January and February protests were not in vain.

"Seeing him in that cage made us feel good," said Nahla Magdi, 49, a radio technician who was walking near the stock exchange. "It was good evidence that we are moving towards freedom." It was almost as big a shock as the day he stepped down, she said. "No one could imagine that he would actually sit inside that cage. Especially we could not imagine it even six months ago."

Some Egyptians were sceptical that Mr Mubarak was so sick that he had to be wheeled into the cage on a gurney. The former president looked pale and weary.

"He was acting," shouted Ahmed Mohamed Badawi, 51, a seller of shoelaces and shoe polish near Tahrir Square. "It's a trick." Mr Badawi said he has personally suffered under Mr Mubarak's regime, often being chased away from his cart by security officers who called him a beggar. "I have a job like anyone else and they made it very hard for me. I hope he is given the death penalty."

But Ahmed, a 35-year-old engineer who declined to give his last name, said that he thought Mr Mubarak was genuinely ill. "During his regime, we never knew the real situation with his health," he said. "He is 83. I think he truly has cancer. It is sad to see such an old man in a place like this."

The trial itself was a victory for Egypt, but he said the true challenge would be the verdict.

If there is some sense that Mr Mubarak gets a lighter sentence people could go back to the streets again. "His appearance in court is a sign of justice, but that's just the start," Ahmed said.

Published: August 4, 2011 04:00 AM


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