Egypt descended into chaos last night despite President Hosni Mubarak’s life sentence, after he and his sons were cleared of corruption charges, setting off huge protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square – the birthplace of the Arab Spring.
By nightfall, a large crowd of up to 10,000 were back in the square and similar protests began in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria and Suez on the Red Sea.
Protesters chanted: ‘A farce, a farce, this trial is a farce’ and ‘The people want execution of the murderer.’
‘Justice was not served,’ said Ramadan Ahmed, whose son was killed on Jan. 28, the bloodiest day of last year’s uprising. ‘This is a sham,’ he said outside the courthouse.
There had been celebrations on the streets of Cairo when Mubarak’s life sentence was announced, but they were short lived as the Egyptian people learned of the fudged verdict.
As the euphoria collapsed into rage, protestors congregated on Tahrir Square waving flags, set off fireworks and chanted ‘baatel’, which means void.
Some were outraged that the former president had avoided the death sentence for his role in the death of more than 900 protestors in last year’s Arab Spring in Egypt, while others were distressed his sons and henchmen had been cleared of corruption charges.
People carried banners displaying ‘God’s verdict is execution’, while in the port city of Alexandria the masses chanted, ‘We are done with talk; We want an execution.’
The case against Mubarak, his sons, and top aides was very limited in scope, focusing only on the uprising’s first few days and two narrow corruption cases.
It was never going to provide a full accountability of wrongdoing under Mubarak’s three decades of authoritarian rule enforced by a brutal police force and a coterie of businessmen linked to the regime who amassed wealth while nearly half of Egypt’s estimated 85 million people lived in poverty.
Mubarak, 84, and his ex-security chief Habib el-Adly were both convicted of complicity in the killings of some 900 protesters and received life sentences.
Six top police commanders were acquitted of the same charge with chief Judge Ahmed Rifaat saying there was a lack of concrete evidence.
That absolved the only other representatives of Mubarak’s hated security forces aside from el-Adly. It was a stark reminder that though the head has been removed, the body of the reviled security apparatus is largely untouched by genuine reform or purges since Mubarak was ousted 15 months ago.
Many of the senior security officials in charge during the uprising and the Mubarak regime continue to go to work every day at their old jobs.
In many ways, the old system remains in place and the clearest example of that is a key regime figure – Mubarak’s longtime friend and last prime minister Ahmed Shafiq – is one of two candidates going to the presidential runoff set for June 16-17. On Saturday, Shafiq’s campaign headquarters in the cities of Fayyoum and Hurghada were attacked and damaged.
The generals who took over from Mubarak have not shown a will for vigorously prosecuting the old regime.
That is something that neither Shafiq and challenger Mohammed Morsi may have the political will or the muscle to change when one is elected president.
Shafiq last week declared himself an admirer of the uprising, calling it a ‘religious revolution’ and pledged there would be no turning of the clock while he is at the helm. On Saturday, he said the verdict showed that no on was above the law in today’s Egypt.
Morsi of the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood quickly tried to capitalise on the anger over the acquittals, vowing in a news conference that, if elected, he would retry Mubarak along with former regime officials suspected of involvement in killing protesters.
‘Egypt and its revolutionary sons will continue their revolution. This revolution will not stop,’ he said.
Former Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak suffered a heart attack just moments after being told he would spend the rest of his life in jail.
Following the lengthy trial, the man who ruled over the country for 30 years was sentenced after being found guilty of being complicit in the killings of protesters during the country’s uprising.
The ruling came at a politically fraught time for Egypt, two weeks before a run-off in its first free presidential election that will pit the Muslim Brotherhood, which was banned under Mubarak, against the deposed autocrat’s last prime minister.
Mubarak, propped up on a hospital stretcher and wearing dark sunglasses, heard the verdict with a stony expression. He had been wheeled into the cage used in Egyptian courtrooms, while the other defendants stood.
‘The people released a collective sigh of relief after a nightmare that did not, as is customary, last for a night, but for almost 30 black, black, black years — darkness that resembled a winter night,’ said Judge Ahmed Rifat as he read his verdict.
‘The revolution by the people of Egypt was inspired by God. They did not seek a luxurious life or to sit atop the world, but asked their politicians, rulers and those in authority to give them a decent life and a bite to eat.
‘They peacefully demanded democracy from rulers who held a tight grip on power.’
Over the past months, Mubarak has been held in a presidential suite in a hospital on the outskirts of Cairo. Doctors treating him have said he is weak and has lost weight from refusing to eat. They have also said he suffers from severe depression.
The Times newspaper today reported that Mubarak has even asked his doctors for prescription drugs so he can take an overdose.
The trial found Mubarak’s two sons Alaa and Gamal not guilty of corruptions charges, but they both still face a separate trial on charges of insider trading.
Former interior minister habib El-Adly was sentenced to life in prison for complicity in murder and attempted murder of protesters. He was convicted and sentenced in two other corruption cases.
Hussein Salem, an ex-army and intelligence officer closely linked to Mubarak was acquitted in absentia of corruption charges.
Demonstrators outside the court, many of whom had been demanding the death penalty for Mubarak, greeted the verdict with fireworks and cries of ‘Allahu akbar’ meaning God is great.
Soha Saeed, the wife of one of about 850 people killed in the street revolt that toppled Mubarak on February 11, 2011, shouted: ‘I’m so happy. I’m so happy.’
Some people inside the court who had wanted a death sentence scuffled with guards, decrying the Mubarak-era judiciary. ‘The people want the judiciary cleansed!’ they chanted.
One man held up a sign calling for Mubarak to be executed, others chanted for a death sentence.
Judge Ahmed Refaat opened Mubarak’s trial in August last year and declared it a ‘historic day’ fro the country. He hailed Egyptians for removing the only leader many of them had known.
‘The people of Egypt woke on Tuesday, January 25, to a new dawn, hoping that they would be able to breathe fresh air … after 30 years of deep, deep, deep darkness,’ he told the court.
Total silence fell over the courtroom in the moments before Refaat announced his verdict.
The judge also sentenced Mubarak’s former interior minister, Habib al-Adli, to life in prison. He sentenced Mubarak’s two sons Alaa and Gamal to time already served.
The crowd outside then erupted in joy. Anti-Mubarak demonstrators and a smaller crowd of his supporters threw stones at each other.
Other protesters angered at the outcome of the trial against deposed Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, his sons and high-level security officials clashed with police outside the building where the verdicts were read.
Protesters threw rocks at riot police standing guard outside the building and the security forces gave chase, witnesses said.
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