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Many See Politics, Not Justice, In Mubarak Verdict

Egyptians gather at Tahrir Square in Cairo to call for a new revolution Saturday. A court sentenced ousted President Hosni Mubarak and his interior minister to life in prison, but acquitted six security chiefs in the deaths of protesters last year.
Fredrik Persson
Egyptians gather at Tahrir Square in Cairo to call for a new revolution Saturday. A court sentenced ousted President Hosni Mubarak and his interior minister to life in prison, but acquitted six security chiefs in the deaths of protesters last year.

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.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at NPR.org. From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.
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