The trial of deposed Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and his aides was optimistically dubbed “the trial of the century.” That, of course, was before the verdicts were announced.
Six months after he was ousted, Mubarak was charged with abusing power to amass wealth as well as conspiring to kill protesters. His sons Alaa and Gamal were also indicted on the first charge, while former Interior Minister Habib al-Adly and his four senior aides faced the second. Two other Interior Ministry officials were charged with failing to protect public and private property, and business tycoon Hussein Salem was charged (in absentia) for corruption. On August 3, 2011, Hosni Mubarak was wheeled into a cage for the first day of the trial, where he laid on a hospital bed and observed the proceedings – a scene many in the Middle East never thought possible. These images led to the trial’s label as “the trial of the century.”
Over the course of the 10-month trial, however, the optimism gradually wore away. The presiding judge soon banned cameras and live broadcast of the sessions, making it unclear to the public what was actually going on in the courtroom. The Ministry of Interior and Egyptian intelligence, still packed with Mubarak’s men, refused to cooperate with the prosecutor, leading to holes in the prosecution’s case. Karim Ennarah, a researcher on security sector reform at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, noted that “there was a clear conflict of interest in the criminal investigation, with the ministry investigating its own police.” Furthermore, it became increasingly clear that much of the incriminating evidence had already been burned or otherwise destroyed.
On June 2, 2012, the verdicts were handed down. In what has been compared to the proverbial glass half empty scenario, Hosni Mubarak and Habib al-Adly were sentenced to 25 years in prison for complicity in killing protesters, while the nine other defendants were acquitted. “[The] ruling means that only the head of the regime and the Interior Minister have been toppled,” read an official statement from the Muslim Brotherhood. “Meanwhile, the rest of the system is completely intact.”
Beyond the acquittals, many Egyptians were disappointed even with the sentences that were given. “The fact that [Mubarak] has been sentenced to life is in itself a milestone in the region. But in a country where the death sentence can be passed he may have got off quite lightly,” said Maha Azzam, an associate fellow in the Middle East and North Africa Program at the London-based think tank Chatham House. "[I]n terms of innocent protesters that lost their lives, it is not clear that justice has been served.”
Upset with the verdicts, protesters numbering in the hundreds of thousands demonstrated for a week for a retrial. But to no avail. To add salt to the wound, one of the released Interior Ministry officials even announced his intention to regain his old position in the ministry. “What I say about the trial is that God was just testing me,” said Major General Omar al-Faramawy. “I filed a lawsuit against the interior ministry in order to return to my work and to get all my just deserts.”