Cairo, Aug 3: Egypt's once all-powerful President Hosni Mubarak today appeared a frail figure as he was wheeled into a courtroom on a stretcher to face trial on charges of corruption and killing protesters, pleading not guilty. If convicted, the 83-year-old former strongman, who was airlifted from a Sharm El-Sheikh hospital to Cairo, could face the death penalty.
“All these charges, I deny them completely,” an ashen-faced Mubarak told the court as his historic trial got underway amidst violent clashes and scuffles between his supporters and opponents outside the special courtroom.
Mubarak, looking pale and dressed in white, pleaded innocent from a metal wired mesh cage to charges of graft and unlawful killings of anti-regime protesters during the revolution that forced him out of power. His two sons Alaa and Gamal, who were in the dock beside him, also pleaded not guilty of corruption charges as presiding Judge Ahmed Refaat adjourned the hearing till August 15 and said the former president would stay in a Cairo hospital until then.
He, thus, became the first Arab ruler in modern times to be put in the dock. His trial has rattled Arab rulers - Monarchs and Presidents - who have long held sway over most of the Muslim nations in the region.
The image of the man, who held absolute power in Egypt for more than three decades, in a cage was beamed live all over the country, thrilling thousands who took to the streets to overthrow him, but must have chilled other Arab rulers facing similar public uprisings.
The prosecutors said Mubarak “had the intention to kill” peaceful protesters during a revolt that ousted him on February 11. He was also accused of allowing former interior minister Habib-al-Adil to use live ammunition on protesters. Mubarak's lawyers asked for defence minister Field Marshall Mohammad Hussain Tantawi to be summoned as a witness in the trial.
The deposed leader was flown into Cairo to face trial for conspiring to kill protesters and corruption, five months after a popular uprising ousted him from absolute power. As Mubarak was wheeled into the courtroom, hundreds of his supporters and opponents scuffled outside.
About 50 pro-Mubarak supporters, holding his giant photograph afloat, declared “we will burn the prison, if they convict Mubarak”, while his opponents, out in more larger numbers, shouted back “death for dictator”. The police backed by armoured cars kept the clashing public far away from the courtroom.
The state television showed him lying on a hospital bed inside a mesh cage in the Cairo courtroom being constantly attended by his two sons who were in prison cloths. The official death toll in the revolution has been put at 846 in addition to another 1400 who lost their eyes as a result of being hit by rubber bullet.
In a separate case that will also be reviewed, Mubarak along with his two sons and fugitive businessman Hussen Salem are facing charges of corruption and amassing wealth illegally as well as selling natural gas to Israel at a price much lower than the international one.
Mubarak, who ruled with an iron fist for nearly three decades, is under arrest in a hospital in Sharm el-Sheikh since April, where he receives treatment for a heart condition. PTI