Former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak arrived in a hospital bed in a Cairo court yesterday to face charges over the killing of protesters, the first Arab leader to stand trial in person since popular uprisings began sweeping the Middle East.
An aircraft landed near the court and shortly afterwards state TV showed Mubarak, aged 83 and wearing a navy blue sports sweater, being wheeled into the courtroom’s steel cage on a gurney.
Mubarak looked composed and stern, hands clasped over his chest, as he exchanged a few words with his sons, Alaa and Gamal, who are also on trial.
Trial judge Ahmed Refaat called Mubarak’s name and he answered: “Present.”
Scores of lawyers then clamored for Refaat’s attention in chaotic scenes and Refaat appealed for calm, ordering them to sit down to allow proceedings to begin.
The hearing could decide if the head of the ruling military council would take the stand as a witness.
Defense lawyers say that any -testimony by Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi on Mubarak’s role in trying to suppress the 18-day uprising, in which about 850 people were killed, could decide the ex-president’s fate.
Tantawi, who was defense minister for two decades under Mubarak, heads the military council that took power when Mubarak was ousted on Feb. 11 by the mass protests.
Tension was running high outside the conference building in a Cairo suburb before Mubarak arrived.
Hundreds of riot police stood guard, but fist fights broke out between Mubarak’s supporters and a group demanding justice for those killed in the uprising. Both sides traded insults and some in the pro-Mubarak crowd threw rocks.
As Mubarak arrived, anti-Mubarak protesters outside shouted: “Judge wake up! Mubarak killed my brothers! Execute the killer!”
“He is Egyptian until death” and “Hosni Mubarak is not Saddam,” chanted his supporters, referring to former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, who was put on trial after a US-led invasion and executed in 2006.
“I want people to read their -history and know what this great man has done for us. He kept Egypt stable. He has been humiliated, but he is weathering the storm with pride,” Ehab Sameh, 30, said.
Ali, a police officer, said: “The silent majority are much more than those few pro-Mubarak folks. The silent majority wants justice for the years of corruption.”
Arab world leaders have long ruled for life and seldom been held to account. However, Mubarak now stands accused of authorizing the use of live ammunition to quell protests, of corruption and abuse of power.
The charges against the former air force commander could carry the death penalty. He denied all accusations during the opening session, which was aired live and counted as his first public appearance since Feb. 11.
Reports issued after Mubarak was taken to a hospital following initial questioning in April said he was suffering from heart problems, depression and fainting fits.
In the first court session, defense lawyers asked for Tantawi, former intelligence chief Omar Suleiman and about 1,600 others to testify as witnesses.
After wrapping up yesterday’s session, Refaat said the court would reconvene on Sept. 5 to begin hearing evidence in the case.
The judge ordered that the trial be merged with that of former interior minister Habib el-Adli and said TV coverage of the trial would end until sentencing takes place.