Mubarak trial encapsulates divisions in Egypt

CAIRO – Hosni Mubarak, on trial for his life, is ferried to court by helicopter from a presidential hospital suite. His sons and co-defendants swagger in,wearing designer track suits andno handcuffs. His security chief is treated with near reverence by police in the courtroom.

For activists in Egypt, the scenes only deepen their feelingthat the authoritarian system the ousted president oversaw remains largely in place, almost a year since the 18-day uprising that toppled him.

When Mubarak’s trial began five months ago, many hoped it would bring not only punishment but a clear sense of victory for a movement that aimed to wipe the slate clean and start again.

Instead, it has boiled down to a bare-knuckled showdown between supporters and foes ofthe “revolution,” reflecting thetensions that have been gripping the country.

Those divisions were clear in court Tuesday as Mubarak’s defense began its arguments. His chief lawyer, Farid el-Deeb, went for maximum effect withflowery language depicting him as an unjustly maligned victim who tried to improve Egypt during29 years in power.

“This man before you, who is 83, has been fatigued andburdened by ailments and mauled by the malice of cunning people,” el-Deeb said.

“He is looking to your justice to save him from the oppression that surrounds him from everydirection, after his reputation and history have been targeted by tongues and pens.”

The courtroom erupted when he said that Mubarak in factsupported the revolution. El-Deeb quoted from a letter he said Mubarak wrote to his lifetime friend Ahmed Shafiq – who was prime minister at the time of the uprising – saying thatprotesters were exercising theirright to stage peaceful protestsbut were infiltrated by criminals and Islamists who destroyedpublic property and challenged the regime’s “legitimacy.”

“Lies, lies!” and “Execution for Mubarak!” screamed the lawyersrepresenting the families ofprotesters killed by police during the revolution.

They rushed at el-Deeb and nearly set upon him, but court police quickly moved to keepthem back.

Mubarak, who has worn an unwaveringly grim expression ever since the trial began onAug. 3, looked content as el-Deeb praised him. For the first time in the trial, he sat in a wheelchair in thecourtroom cage where thedefendants are kept, rather than lying on a hospital gurney as he has in previous sessions.

Mubarak, his former securitychief Habib el-Adly and four top security officers are charged with complicity in the killing ofhundreds of protesters and could face the death penalty ifconvicted. Mubarak’s sons Alaa and Gamal, along with their father, are charged with corruptionin the same trial, a crime that would carry a prison sentence.