Threat of death penalty looms over Mubarak

By Alastair Beach

The deposed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was facing the possibility of death by hanging as the final session in one of the most sensational trials in recent history drew to a close.

Given a last opportunity to address the court in Cairo, where for much of the past six months he has lain on a hospital bed in a cage listening to the evidence against him, Mubarak refused, telling the judge he had no comments to make.

"What the lawyer said is enough," said the 83-year-old, whose reign began in a bloodbath after he saw his predecessor, Anwar Sadat, gunned down before his eyes during a military parade in Cairo back in 1981.

The chief prosecutor made it clear this week that if convicted, Mubarak could suffer a similarly undignified denouement, and the hangman's noose. Mustafa Suleiman told the court that the former President, whose two sons are being tried alongside him on corruption charges, authorised the use of live ammunition against protesters.

"This is not a case about the killing of one or 10 or 20 civilians, but a case of an entire nation," said Suleiman.

Mubarak's co-defendants also include his former Interior Minister Habib al-Adly and four senior security officers. All of them should receive the death penalty, said Suleiman.

More than 800 people were killed in the 18 days leading up to Mubarak's ousting last year.

Habib al-Adly spoke for 90 minutes during yesterday's session. He accused "foreign saboteurs" of being behind the uprising, saying they had "desecrated Egypt's pure land" with the aid of unnamed Egyptian co-conspirators.

But despite calls for the death penalty from Egypt's chief prosecutor, some believe it is unlikely that Mubarak will be executed. According to Maha Maamoun from the Hisham Mubarak Law Centre, whose lawyers are representing some of the victims' families at the trial, even if Egypt's former ruler is eventually convicted there may not be enough evidence to guarantee a death penalty. "There just doesn't seem to be enough against Hosni Mubarak or Habib al-Adly," she said. "At the moment maybe they are 50 per cent sure. But they need to be 100 per cent sure."

That will not be enough to satisfy some of the families of those killed. The wife of Said Mostafa, a bus driver killed in the early days of the uprising, said that Mubarak execution was "the least they can offer to the martyrs".

The trial itself has been dogged by criticism. When the Egyptian leader, Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi, a former friend and colleague of Mubarak, was called to testify last year, all of his evidence was given in camera, bringing claims of a stitch-up. There have also been delays, outbursts of courtroom squabbling and failed attempts by lawyers to get new judges on the case.

"It's just a play," said Malek Mostafa, a blogger who was imprisoned under Mubarak. "They are just fooling the people."

The trial comes just days before another landmark case, that of 16 Americans and 27 others who all worked for NGOs targeted in a crackdown on civil society by the Egyptian Government.

They face charges involving the illegal use of foreign funds in a case that has cast a shadow over Egypt's alliance with the United States.

- Independent

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