- - Saturday, June 2, 2012

CAIRO — Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was sentenced Saturday to life in prison for corruption and murder nearly 16 months after his ouster - an outcome that marked a first for deposed Arab dictators but still left many unsatisfied.

State television showed Mubarak wearing sunglasses and lying on a hospital bed as he was wheeled into a criminal courtroom inside Egypt’s Police Academy. He has been held at a hospital in the Sinai resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh since last year.

The 84-year-old deposed dicator was found guilty of permitting the murders of hundreds of protesters during an 18-day revolt against him in January 2011. He is the first Arab leader to be tried and convicted in regular criminal court.

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Former Interior Minister Habib al-Adly also was sentenced to life in prison.

But many are displeased with the verdict.

“We don’t want him to be in jail,” said Maha Rafaat, 43, protesting with thousands of others Saturday evening in Tahrir Square for the death penalty for Mubarak. “We want him to suffocate.”

Outside the police academy Saturday morning, anti-Mubarak protesters initially were ecstatic about the verdict. They set off fireworks to celebrate the news.

But elation turned to disappointment when the crowd of more than 100 learned that six senior security officials, including former head of the State Security Investigations service, were acquitted.

“How can you convict Mubarak and al-Adly but exonerate these people?” said Egyptian writer and blogger Bassem Sabry.

Corruption charges were dropped against Mubarak’s sons Gamal and Alaa and businessman Hussein Salem, who was tried in absentia.

“This was the one trial to hold officials accountable, and instead all it did was to confirm impunity,” said Heba Morayef, a researcher in the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch.

After the verdict was announced by presiding Judge Ahmed Refaat, people in the courtroom shouted, “The people want to clean up the judiciary!”

Later, clashes broke out between protesters and security forces outside the police academy after several demonstrators attacked a police vehicle. One man among the angry crowd carried a stick with a dangling noose.

“We have from the start welcomed the trial of Mubarak and others for their role in the killing of protesters which began in January 2011,” Ann Harrison, Amnesty International’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in a statement Saturday.

“However, the trial and verdict have today left the families of those killed, as well as those injured in the protests, in the dark about the full truth of what happened to their loved ones and it failed to deliver full justice.”

Analysts and opponents to the verdict say a primary concern is that the decision may convince officials - especially those in the security sector - that they can get away with killing protesters.

“The problem is that when the future director of security sees that the past director of security isn’t imprisoned, he will make decisions that are bad for the revolution,” said Amr Ali, a researcher and photographer who lives near the Giza pyramids and protested Saturday in Tahrir Square.

Legal experts, however, say the trial is far from over, and the defendants will appeal.

Hossam Bahgat, director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, said that when the case goes to retrial, his group will work to ensure all state agents submit more evidence to strengthen the case against the accused.

“We will make sure this is not the final word,” Mr. Bahgat said.

Lost in transition

The verdict comes at a critical moment during a rocky transition, as Egyptians prepare to elect their nation’s new leader and embark on what many hope will be a road to real democracy.

Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi will compete against Mubarak’s last prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, in a June 16-17 run-off vote.

It is proving to be a highly polarized race and is shocking some voters who never expected a former regime figure to be in the runoff election.

Many Egyptians crave stability and order that has been lacking during the transition. But Saturday’s verdict is proving further disruptive in a country plagued by a weakened economy resulting in part from continued unrest. Analysts predict the protests will continue over the next several days.

“We don’t have freedom as of now and the revolution began a year and a half ago,” said Sayyed Abdel Rahman, 21, protesting in Tahrir. “The police can come and kick anyone in the street and not end up in prison.”

Some said the sentences for Mubarak and al-Adly were undeserved.

A tiny group of pro-Mubarak demonstrators carrying posters of the deposed dictator outside the police academy screamed and cried in agony when the verdict was announced. Some expressed pity for his age and poor health. One woman held a poster that read, “I love Mubarak.”

Others were not nearly as forgiving.

“We can’t believe Mubarak’s companions are out now - that the killers are out,” one protester said of the acquittals of the six security officials.

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