Activists enthusiastic about Mubarak trial, but not without skepticism

Activists in Egypt expressed enthusiasm after the first session of ousted President Hosni Mubarak's trial took place this morning at the Police Academy in New Cairo.

Mubarak showed up in court, alongside his two sons, Alaa and Gamal, his former Minister of Interior Habib al-Adly and six of his aides. They were accused of killing protesters, profiteering and squandering public funds.

"I definitely did not think the day would come when Mubarak and his aides would be in a cage in a court," said Ragia Omran, activist, lawyer and member of the Free Egyptians Movement.

"A part of me is completely shocked," said Mahmoud Salem, activist and blogger known by his online alias Sandmonkey, "Overall it was a pretty fair trial, because the judge seemed relatively impartial and most people were given a fair chance of participation."

"I’m pleased with the space given to prosecutors, through the participation of activist groups such as the Front to Defend Egyptian Protesters," said Nazly Hussein, member of a group called No To Military Trials.

Activists perceived the trial of Mubarak as a response to popular pressure, especially the recent Tahrir sit-in, which kicked off on 8 July and was forcibly dismantled on 1 August by the military despite the fact that most groups had announced their intention to withdraw.

"Although I’m still in dismay, we shouldn't be all that surprised, because it is thanks to the 8 July sit-in protesters that this trial took place. If Mubarak was absent today, I think the country would have been flaming in anger," said Omran.

Mohamed al-Qassas, a member of the 25 January Revolution Youth Coalition, said Mubarak's trial is one of the fruits of the recent uprising, adding that the 8 July sit-in was instrumental in bringing it about.

Qassas said the trial acts as a warning to all officials, reminding them that nobody is above the law. The trial is not the end of the road, he added, since all those involved in wrongdoing during the uprising have to be brought to justice.

Mohamed Adel, the official spokesperson for the April 6 Movement, said the public trial proves that the revolution is on the right track. However, he said that the trial should not be allowed to drag on for too long.

Yasser al-Hawary, spokesperson for the Youth for Justice and Freedom Movement, said the trial has dispelled any suspicions regarding whether Mubarak and sons were in detention or had fled the country.

Some activists, however, remained cynical.

“This is a step which should have taken place a long time ago," added Omran. "It seemed very much like a dramatic Ramadan series, especially when Mubarak came in a hospital bed, and lawyers were very emotional."

Salem agrees with Omran in that the trial was over-dramatic. "Bringing Mubarak in with his hospital bed was unnecessary. It was an attempt to create pity."

Qassas also described Mubarak's appearance on a stretcher during his trial as an attempt to elicit public sympathy.

"Meanwhile, Gamal Mubarak held a Koran, in a manner very similar to [Iraq’s] Saddam Hussein a few years ago," added Salem. "This was definitely another part of their act." Hussein was executed in 2009.

"Mubarak seemed capable of communicating, had a very lucid expression and even his hair remained dyed," added Salem. "This makes me doubt he is in fact as ill as his lawyers deemed."

Reports say Mubarak has been suffering from depression and loss of appetite.

Some activists expressed skepticism about the judicial procedures involved.

"I don't think the judge was as impartial as publicized. He allowed more space for the lawyers of the defendants rather than those of the martyrs’ families," said Sherif Ruby, member of the Political Office of the April 6thYouth Movement. "I’m also doubtful that the defendant will be able to properly read through 9000 pages of documents, and that 1630 witnesses will be able to have a say."

"It was not an entirely fair hearing. At least 100 lawyers and many of the martyrs’ families were not given permission to enter the court," said Omran. "This is a sign of a crack in the judicial system."

"I'm not going to call this a step forward, because for now it is just a step," said activist Noor Ayman Noor, "I think it is completely unnecessary to thank the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) because it was the effort of the protesters, and not theirs, which led to this."

Noor feels other issues need to be addressed before the trial can be deemed fair.

"After seeing so much injustice still continuing to thrive, such as the use of military trials, where thousands of innocent protesters have been arrested, tortured and subjected to unfair trials and verdicts within 24 hours, or even less, I don't think I can have blind faith in the judicial system."

"I won't be able to celebrate Hosni Mubarak's trial until all the demands of the revolution are met first."

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