CAIRO (AP) — Former President Hosni Mubarak returned to court Monday for the second session of his trial on charges of corruption and complicity in killing protesters during the mass uprising that ousted him from power.
The ailing, 83-year old Mubarak arrived in a helicopter from a Cairo hospital where he has been held since his first court appearance on Aug. 3 at a police academy that once been named after him. He was then wheeled into the metal defendants’ cage on a bed with his two sons, Gamal and Alaa, by his side. The sons are facing only corruption charges.
The trial of Mubarak, who ruled with unquestioned power for 29 years, was one of the main demands of the protesters who forced him out of office on Feb. 11. It came after weeks of protests and street pressure on the country’s military rulers, who took charge after Mubarak stepped down.
The start of the trial was a relief for many protesters. But many are still wary that it may come at the expense of other changes the protest movement is pushing for. Many protesters are mistrustful of the ruling generals and wonder if they are really willing to weed out former regime officials or introduce drastic political reforms.
The military rulers have tried to reassure the public they are committed to democratic elections before the year is out. But they are also showing signs of impatience with the continued street pressure, particularly from an increasingly disparate political groups.
On Sunday, a prominent protest leader and woman activist was charged with insulting the military council and inciting violence against it, in one of the most serious accusation against activists seen as an attempt to stifle criticism.
Mubarak’s trial has been closely watched, and reactions to his appearance in court reflect the growing post-revolutionary divisions with Egyptian society.
Scores of pro- and anti-Mubarak supporters rallied outside the fortress-like police academy where the trial is being held, and briefly clashed. Hundreds of his supporters railed against they called “humiliation” of the former leader. But the overwhelming majority of Egyptians, his appearance in the defendants’ cage was a sight few had ever expected to see in a country where Mubarak ruled with absolute authority.
Mubarak is charged with complicity in the killing of the nearly 900 protesters who died in the uprising and of corruption in accepting gifts to facilitate a land deal.
His former interior minister, once in charge of the police and other security forces who violently confronted mostly peaceful protesters, is also a defendant in the same case, along with six other senior security officers. They are accused of complicity in killing some of protesters.
The security officers didn’t appear in the dock Monday. The hearing in their case, which had began before Mubarak’s case was joined, was held separately Sunday, and the session adjourned to Sept.5.
In the courtroom, Presiding Judge Ahmed Rifaat firmly addressed the lawyers representing families of the protest victims, who bickered over seating arrangements and chances to address the panel of three judges.
“The case needs effort, not protests or talking,” Rifaat told the crowd, complaining that he had more than 100 lawyers to listen to.
The family lawyers asked to separate the corruption charges and the killing of the protesters so as not to delay either case.
Mubarak was still on his hospital bed in the cage. He appeared to close his eyes at times. He said: “Present” when the judge did a roll call.
The judge recessed the session briefly, and asked the lawyers to write down their requests, apparently to avoid further bickering. The hearing was then reconvened.
Before arriving in the dock, Mubarak’s older son Alaa covered a state TV camera to try to block it from filming his father being taken out of the ambulance to go into the courtroom. Mubarak’s health had been subject of speculation for weeks before his trial, and many suspected he might not even appear in court.
In a repeat of the violence that surfaced in the first session of his trial, brief scuffles between his supporters and opponents broke out.
When Mubarak’s image appeared on the large screen outside the police academy’s walls, his supporters shouted: “Here is the lion.” The screen was set up so that those outside could watch the court proceedings, which were also televised.
Some women cried. One shouted: “I wish Egypt burns for what they did to Mubarak.”
Nermine Nabil, a 21-year old, was wearing a T-shirt that read: “I am an Egyptian. I am against the humiliation of the nation’s leader.” She said the anti-Mubarak camp don’t know what freedom means.
“When I was a baby, Mubarak was in the desert fighting. Now we are in the desert fighting for him,” she said, referring to the police academy’s location on Cairo’s outskirts.
Families of the victims were more somber. They carried pictures of their slain relatives, and put a Mubarak picture on the ground for people to step on.
Sporadic scuffles between the two sides were quashed by riot police.
The hearing, like the first session, was held during Ramadan, the holy month when Muslims abstain from food and drink from sunrise to sunset in an exercise of piety and self-restraint.
Under the scorching sun, 23- year Abdel-Karim Ibrahim, held up a poster of his brother Mustafa, a protester who was died from a bullet to the kidney.
“To stand in the sun for justice for my brother has taste when I am fasting,” said Ibrahim.