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The Daily Need

Two sides of the Mubarak trial: Justice, or humiliation?


CAIRO, Egypt — I arrived here at the police academy, where the trial of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is being held, early in the morning. Clashes had erupted between the pro- and anti-Mubarak crowds during his first appearance on August 3, and I wanted to speak to some of the protesters to understand how they felt.

Mubarak, who stepped down on February 11, has been charged with complicity in the killings of over 800 people during the 18 days of protests that toppled his regime earlier this year. His two sons, Alaa and Gamal, are being charged with corruption.

A large screen had been set up outside the court to broadcast the trial to the crowds that had gathered there to express their support for, or opposition to, Mubarak. As I found, the opinions of the protesters were sharply divided.

‘I Reject the Humiliation of the Nation’s Leader’

The pro-Mubarak protesters were first on my way in. They were all wearing T-Shirts reading: I am Egyptian. I reject the humiliation of the nation’s leader,” and holding pictures of Mubarak.

I spoke to a number of Mubarak supporters, some of whom claimed they were not against the trial, but oppose the “humiliation” of their former president. When asked for suggestions of a “non-humiliating” trial, none came up with concrete ideas.

“His old age and his sickness should exempt him from a trial. Plus, he is the leader of the Arabs,” said Tamer Nasr, one of the protest organizers.

Mahmoud Ibrahim argued that Mubarak had many accomplishments. “At least we had no wars during his 30 years as president,” he said.

“I don’t call this a revolution, I call it an uprising. The regime fell and thugs took over,” said Ehab Ahmed. Asked if he would like to choose his own leader through voting one day, Ahmed said, “We are with change, but not with humiliation. This man should be honored.” He said Mubarak was “not an angel,” but argued that his men often hid the facts from him.

‘We Don’t Want to Wait’

A few steps to the left, but worlds apart, were the anti-Mubarak protesters. Two young men were walking around with nooses. Many had anti-Mubarak signs. The hatred towards the former president intensified on their faces as they chanted against him.

“I would like to see Mubarak hang. We don’t want to wait until he passes away,” said Saeyeda Said, who participated in the original protests and sit-in at Tahrir Square.  She looked toward Mubarak’s supporters and said that, if they had lost somebody in the revolution, they would change their position.

“I am not satisfied with this trial. I feel that Mubarak is acting and they keep postponing the trial,” she added.

Ramadan Farag lost his 16-year old son Mohammed on January 28 in Alexandria, when he was shot in the head. Farag was walking around outside the court with pictures of his son, including one of him in the hospital, on a piece of cardboard hanging from his neck. He said he holds Mubarak accountable and wants to see justice served. Farag supported his son’s participation in the protests, and went down himself to Tahrir Square after his son’s death to call for Mubarak’s ouster.

What Both Sides Have in Common

The one thing the pro- and anti-Mubarak protesters seemed to have in common was their skill in throwing rocks at each other.

At first glance, the security set-up seemed appropriate. Each group was given its own area, with security forces standing between the two. As the beginning of the trial approached, the crowds got closer to the cordon and began shouting insults at each other.

A small fight broke out. Security took a few minutes to control it. I then saw scores of protesters crossing the street to collect rocks. They brought them back and entered the cordoned area under the security forces’ watch. Four men then stood on top of piles of rocks for more than 30 minutes. I asked one of the men, who refused to let me take his picture, why he needed the rocks. He said he would use them only if the other side attacked.

“I don’t know. I can’t do anything,” a security officer said of the confrontation. My colleague spoke to a second officer who was similarly indifferent.

Sure enough, an intensive rock-throwing battle soon broke out between the two groups. Both groups stormed out of their designated areas and ran around throwing heavy rocks at each other. Nobody was watching the trial, which was airing on a large screen outside the court. According to the Egyptian health ministry, 23 people were injured.

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