- - Friday, June 1, 2012

CAIRO — The verdict in the corruption and murder trial of deposed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is expected Saturday, but it already is dividing citizens here between those demanding change and those seeking stability nearly 16 months after the dictator’s ouster.

Many Egyptians say they want retribution for crimes committed by Mr. Mubarak during his 30-year rule, while others express pity for the 84-year-old, cancer-ridden man who could face the death penalty or years behind bars.

Analysts say that, as long as the verdict reflects that the defendant received a fair trial, it could help the nation move forward, whatever its outcome.

“[The trial] offers an opportunity for Egyptians who were victims of these past crimes to get redress,” said Joe Stork, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch. “Accountability is a huge issue in Egypt, in the region, and in the world. This has the potential to demonstrate that no one, even if he has been president for 30 years, is above the law.”

Mr. Mubarak faces charges of corruption and complicity in murder and attempted murder of hundreds of protesters who demonstrated against his regime last year.

The verdict comes at a critical junction in Egypt’s transition.

Late last month, Egyptians cast their votes in the country’s first free and democratic presidential election. A runoff election between the top two vote-getters — Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood and Ahmed Shafiq, Mr. Mubarak last prime minister — will be held June 16-17. The winner will be announced June 21.

“The future president, whomever it will be, will see the sentence before his eyes and he will be aware,” said Saed Abdo, an employee in the Finance Ministry. “He will take into consideration that there can be a trial sooner or later.”

The verdict also has the potential to set a regional precedent for upholding international fair trial standards and accountability for abuse of human rights, Human Rights Watch said in a May 28 report about the trial.

Not all Egyptians, however, are confident the verdict will be impartial. Many predict that Mr. Mubarak will receive only a few years in jail.

“People are saying this will be a symbolic trial, not real,” said Omar Bakr, 19, adding that the primary purpose of the trial is to appease an angry public.

When the trial began Aug. 3, the nation was shocked by live TV images of Mr. Mubarak lying on a hospital gurney inside a cage in the criminal courtroom at Egypt’s Police Academy, a sprawling complex on the outskirts of Cairo.

“He deserves this because he was a tyrant,” said Randa Sabry, who lives in a satellite city in the nearby desert.

After live TV coverage was banned, the Egyptian public has lacked information about the trial, which ended Feb. 22.

In September, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, who has ruled the nation with a group of generals since Mr. Mubarak’s ouster, testified in a court session that was closed to the media, as did other government figures.

The prosecution occasionally posted official news on its Facebook page.

Some Egyptians now say they pity the ailing, aged Mr. Mubarak as they recall the stability of his regime.

“I’m sad to see him in this state,” said newspaper vendor Sobhy Al-Aghamy. “Our concern is just for the country to improve, and his trial will not benefit us in any way. We also remember things that were good about him.”

That is a far cry from prevailing sentiment in the immediate aftermath of Mr. Mubarak’s ouster after an 18-day popular revolt in February 2011. In the months since then, Egyptians have struggled with a weakened economy, a decline in security and a fall in tourism.

“When Mubarak was in power, everything was in a good state,” said Umm Ahmad, a bread vendor. “Things are now high priced. We have thugs and thieves, and there is no security.”

Instability and economic hardship are key among the reasons some here are focusing their attention on the future. Many Egyptians say they will vote for Mr. Shafiq, a former member of the Mubarak regime, because they believe he has the experience to restore some sense of normalcy.

“We didn’t forget about the trial, but we have our eyes on the people trying to control the country,” said small business owner Osama Ahmad.

Others say that, after addressing the past, Egyptians can look to the future.

“For many brackets of society the verdict is important, especially for those who lost their sons in the last period,” said Iman Abu Hatab, who lives in a downtown area where protesters and security forces have aged violent battles. “Mubarak will receive a sentence, according to what the judge sees, and then we will start a new era after the presidential elections.”



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