Judge bans TV cameras as violence erupts outside Mubarak trial

McClatchy NewspapersAugust 15, 2011 

CAIRO — The judge in Egypt's trial of deposed President Hosni Mubarak on Monday ordered an end to live television broadcasts of the proceedings as supporters and opponents of the former leader hurled objects at each other during his second court appearance in Cairo.

While some Mubarak critics lambasted the decision, saying the trial is historic and must be broadcast, others applauded it as a way to prevent violence, protect witnesses and stop the on-air grandstanding of dozens of attorneys involved in the case.

"The main aim for the trial to be televised was so that people would be assured that the court is serious and not taking Mubarak's side. That goal is fulfilled now, and we should leave the court to do its job," said Taher Abu elNasr, a human rights activist and attorney for the families of slain protesters.

Egypt's interim military leaders have faced criticism for the circus-like frenzy surrounding the trial, which has whipped up emotions in both the pro- and anti-Mubarak camps.

The atmosphere was tense outside the police academy where Mubarak, his two sons and former security chiefs are being tried on charges of stealing state funds, profiteering and ordering the killing of protesters during the demonstrations that led to Mubarak's toppling in February.

Thousands of riot police were deployed in hopes of keeping small crowds of Egyptians from both sides separated. But the clashes Monday were even fiercer than those that erupted during Mubarak's first appearance Aug. 3.

Bottles and rocks rained down on both sides, and some people were trampled as onlookers ran for cover. Even volunteers who were carrying a man with a bleeding head wound came under fire from projectiles. It was unclear which side instigated the violence, but both crowds appeared ready for battle. They kept piles of rocks — ammunition — at close hand.

Chief Judge Ahmed Rifaat didn't spell out why he banned TV cameras, saying only that the decision was made out of public interest. He also ruled that Mubarak and his co-defendants would be tried together with former Interior Minister Habib el Adly, whose trial had been separate. Then he adjourned the trial until Sept. 5.

Typically composed and matter-of-fact, the judge at one point appeared to lose patience with the disorganized, motley crew of attorneys for the families of the more than 900 protesters who died in the 18-day uprising.

"I don't think it's a real trial. It's just to please the masses," complained Yasmine Khalifa, a 26-year-old teacher who supported the anti-Mubarak demonstrations as she watched the proceedings on a large monitor that had been set up outside the trial venue.

Mubarak, who's being held in a military hospital, arrived by ambulance and, as in the first hearing, was wheeled into court on a hospital gurney with an intravenous drip. This time, he was dressed in a tracksuit instead of the standard white prison-issue uniform. He and his two sons, Gamal and Alaa, listened to the proceedings from inside the customary defendants' cage.

Both sons stood in front of their father, presumably to block television crews from a clear view, though cameras caught Gamal and Alaa Mubarak waving and smiling as they exited the makeshift courtroom after the mostly procedural session, which lasted about two hours.

Outside the court, Mubarak supporters were upset that the family looked paler and weaker than before. Some wept, saying they only hoped that Mubarak would survive to prove his innocence. They wore T-shirts and carried placards that showed their loyalty.

Such public expression of support for Mubarak is dangerous now, they said, noting the perceived hypocrisy of revolutionaries who advocated greater freedoms but don't tolerate opposing views of the former regime.

"They say, 'You're crazy, you're retarded,' " said Mubarak supporter Ehab Temamy, 47, a manager at a software company. "I have to watch where I am before saying anything in case they beat me. Is this right?"

"If they think this is democracy, this is insulting," added Amal Halim, 44, who works with Temamy. Her eyes filled with tears as she described losing close friends because of their divergent views on Mubarak and the revolution.

"In the London riots, everybody says they're thugs. They do the same thing in Egypt and people call it a revolution and say, 'Bravo!' " she said.

Mubarak supporters distributed fliers explaining their position, describing themselves as independent Egyptians who value stability over chaos and want to see an end to the "humiliation" of and "conspiracy against" a national symbol.

"He's more than happy to stand in court before the respected Egyptian judiciary, setting an example for every Egyptian in bravery and dignity," the flier says.

A phalanx of riot policemen separated the Mubarak loyalists from supporters of the revolution and victims' families, some carrying posters emblazoned with the faces of the dead. One man brandished a noose and cried out for the death penalty, which Mubarak faces if convicted.

When the Mubarak supporters hoisted up a large portrait of the disgraced leader, his opponents jeered and shouted, "There's the thief!"

The timing of the resumption of Mubarak's trial in a civilian court angered some protesters, who contrasted it with the scheduled beginning in a military court in Alexandria of 14 civilians accused of attacking an army installation.

"Mubarak is not better than any of us," said Mamdouh Tareq, 18, who was injured during the revolution and joined the crowd outside the court in Cairo. "Look at the civilians, dragged into military courts while he's sitting there in a civilian court."

That trial was delayed because of the Mubarak court case, according to the local Ahram Online news website, which quoted one of the defendants as saying that the accused arrived late to court because the transport team was fixated on the televised Mubarak hearing.

(Ahmed is a McClatchy special correspondent.)

MORE FROM MCCLATCHY

Some in Egypt having second thoughts about trying Mubarak

A graying Mubarak makes his first court appearance

New Egypt? 7,000 civilians jailed since Mubarak fell

Egyptian celebrities who backed Mubarak become pariahs

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