Egypt’s Mubarak Could Face Death Penalty

BY Robert Zeliger  May 24, 2011 at 3:42 PM EDT

Egypt’s former leader Hosni Mubarak and two of his sons will face trial — with a potential death sentence — for the killing of civilians in protests earlier this year that ultimately led to Mubarak’s resignation, Egypt’s public prosecutor announced Tuesday.

Mubarak, 82, left office on Feb. 11 after weeks of mass demonstrations by protesters calling on him to resign. A crackdown by his government and its supporters left more than 800 people dead during the uprising.

Since then, Mubarak has been in a legal limbo. Following his ouster, he returned to his luxury home in the Sinai resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh. The military government later announced he had been put under house arrest.

In April, he reportedly suffered a heart attack while being questioned by Egyptian authorities and was sent to a hospital, where he has remained since. His two sons — Gamal and Alaa — were imprisoned. They were charged Tuesday as well. Hosni Mubarak’s wife, Suzanne Mubarak, also was imprisoned this month but released after a few days.

Tuesday’s announcement came days before a planned demonstration in Cairo’sTahrir Square. The protest was to call for faster reforms and a public trial for Mubarak. Many Egyptians suspected Mubarak was being protected by the current military rulers. Some Mideast analysts said the military was likely being lobbied by Gulf Arab countries, in particular Saudi Arabia, to keep Mubarak from being put on trial. Many of these countries, who had hoped that Mubarak would remain in office, fear the repercussions for a region where many leaders use similar heavy-handed approaches to put down unrest.

Samer Shehata, a professor of Arab Politics at Georgetown, said a majority of Egyptians want to see Mubarak tried.

“No one is calling for a kangaroo court,” he said. “They are not calling for him to be tried and executed in the middle of Tahrir Square. But people want to see justice done. They support the legal investigation into what his involvement was in the deaths of 800 plus people during the revolution. There’s no question he was involved in that.”

Shehata said there would be greater reticence if he was to be sentenced to death.

Some analysts say the precedent-setting potential of Mubarak’s trial could strengthen the resolve of other leaders in the region who face opposition. In Syria, Yemen, or Libya, rulers are showing an unwillingness to bend to the will of their people, and a humiliating trial and potential death sentence for Mubarak — who left office relatively peacefully — might make other rulers even less likely to give up without a fight.

“I think they will be more intent on hanging on, despite the costs,” Sara Hassan, an independent Middle East risk analyst, told Reuters. “There is no stepping down, stepping aside, waiting a few years and perhaps coming back to power.”

Read more about Mubarak’s career: Timeline: Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s President for Three Decades

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