With him in the cage were his nine co-defendants, including his two sons — one-time heir apparent Gamal and wealthy businessman Alaa — his former interior minister Habib el-Adly, and six top former police officials.
From time to time, Mubarak craned his head to see the proceedings. Other times, he crooked his elbow over his face as if in exhaustion. While the other defendants sat on wooden benches in the cage, the 47-year-old Gamal and 49-year-old Alaa in their white prison uniforms stood next to their father’s bed, at one point with their arms crossed on their chest seemingly trying to block the court camera’s view of their father. The two sons each carried a copy of the Quran and leaned over to talk to their father.
Relatives of the defendants sat near the cage. A fence running through the middle of the chamber divided them from the rest of the audience of around 300 people, including a few relatives of protesters killed in the uprising, kept far enough that they cannot shout or throw anything at the former leader.
During the session, Mubarak’s lawyer filed a motion that Defense Minister Hussein Tantawi — the head of the council of generals that now runs Egypt — be called to testify in the trial. He argued that Tantawi was in control of security after Jan. 28, three days into the protests. The motion signals an attempt by the defense to drag the military into the case.
After several hours, the judge adjourned Mubarak and his sons’ trial until Aug. 15, though hearings in el-Adly’s case would continue Thursday. The judge ordered Mubarak held at the International Medical Center, a military hospital on the outskirts of Cairo, and that an oncologist be among the doctors monitoring him. That was one of the strongest indications yet that the 83-year-old Mubarak has cancer after months of unconfirmed reports.
Up to the last minute, many Egyptians had doubted that Mubarak would actually appear at the trial, expecting health issues would be used as an excuse for him to stay away.
His healthier than expected appearance could raise demands that he be held in prison like his sons rather than “in the cushy hospital,” the anti-Mubarak activist group “We are all Khaled Said” wrote in a posting on its Facebook page. The group is named after a young man killed by police in 2009.
Mostafa el-Naggar, one of the leading youth activists who organized the anti-Mubarak uprising, called the scene of the trial “a moment no Egyptian ever thought was possible.”
“I have many feelings. I am happy, satisfied. I feel this a real success for the revolution, and I feel that the moment of real retribution is near,” he told The Associated Press.
The trial came only after heavy pressure by activists on the now ruling military — one of the few demands that still unites the disparate protest movement. It answers, at least partially, a growing clamor in Egypt for justice not only for the wrongs of Mubarak’s authoritarian regime but also for the violent suppression of the largely peaceful uprising, in which 850 protesters were killed.
In February, as protests raged around him, Mubarak vowed he would die on Egyptian soil. The last time Egyptians saw him, he appeared on state TV, handing most of his powers to his vice president but refusing to resign. He proclaimed he was “adamant to continue to shoulder my responsibility.”
The next day, his resignation was announced and Mubarak fled to a palatial residence in Sharm el-Sheikh. The ruling generals who took power from him — and who were all appointed by Mubarak before the uprising — appeared reluctant to prosecute him, but protests flared anew, pressuring action.
In April, Mubarak was moved to the Sharm el-Sheikh hospital and put under arrest while his sons and former cronies were held in Cairo’s Torah Prison.
The prosecution is an unprecedented moment in the Arab world, the first time a modern Mideast leader has been put on trial fully by his own people.
The closest event to it was former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s trial, but his capture came at the hands of U.S. troops in 2003 and his special tribunal was set up with extensive consultation with American officials and international experts. Tunisia’s deposed president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, has been tried and convicted several times since his fall several weeks before Mubarak‘s, but all in absentia as he remains in exile in Saudi Arabia.