The retrial of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was aborted yesterday when the presiding judge withdrew from the case and referred it to another court, causing an indefinite delay that sparked anger in the courtroom.
Lawyers said that while the transfer would give prosecutors more time to draw on new evidence, it could delay the case by months, increasing the risk that Mubarak, 84, may never be finally convicted and sentenced.
“Egypt cannot close the door on the former regime until there is justice for the martyrs of our revolution,” said Mohamed Rashwan, a prosecution attorney and member of the Egyptian Lawyers’ Union, which had petitioned to have the judge removed from the case.
Two years had passed since Mubarak’s fall and justice was taking too long, Rashwan said.
“The people demand the execution of Mubarak” frustrated relatives of demonstrators killed in the 2011 uprising that overthrew him chanted in court after presiding Judge Mustafa Hassan Abdullah announced the decision at the opening session.
Outside the compound, pro-Mubarak demonstrators outnumbered opponents. The two groups were kept apart by police.
Mubarak, who ruled Egypt for almost 30 years before being toppled by 18 days of Arab Spring pro-democracy unrest, waved and smiled to supporters from the defendants’ cage in the courtroom before the brief hearing began.
He was flown by helicopter from a military hospital where he has been detained to the police academy used as a courthouse, and wheeled into the building on a hospital trolley.
Mubarak, former Egyptian interior minister Habib al-Adli and four top aides face a retrial for complicity in the murder of more than 800 protesters after the highest appeals court accepted appeals by both the defense and the prosecution in January. Two other senior interior ministry officials face lesser charges.
The presiding judge was appointed under Mubarak and so were most of the current judiciary, a factor that has complicated transitional justice in Egypt.
The judge said he had decided to refer the case to the Cairo appeals court as he felt “unease” in reviewing the case.
He did not explain his decision further.