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Mubarak retrial eclipsed by political woes

11 April 2013, 10:30

Cairo - The retrial of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak begins on Saturday in Cairo, but the ousted strongman's fate has been eclipsed by the deadly turmoil and economic woes gripping the country.

Mubarak, his interior minister Habib al-Adly and six security chiefs are to face court again over their complicity in the murder and attempted murder of hundreds of peaceful protesters on January 25-31 2011.

His sons Gamal and Alaa - once symbols of power and wealth - will be retried on corruption charges along with their father. Business tycoon Hussein Salem is being tried in absentia.

The hearing will be held at the police academy that once bore Mubarak's name in a Cairo suburb, and a group of staunch supporters have said on social media websites that they will be there to stand by their former leader.

The initial trial in August 2011 was a big moment for the country and the region because it was the first time an Arab leader deposed by his people appeared personally in court.

But the drama of those first days, which saw an ailing Mubarak wheeled into court on a stretcher, has since fizzled.

There had been dozens of newspaper columns and talk show episodes dedicated to what was dubbed "the trial of the century".

This time round, there is scant mention of Mubarak in the press or on television or even in private, save for the fact that earlier this week the public prosecutor extended his detention on corruption charges.

Mubarak, who turns 85 in May, has suffered several health scares and the state news agency even reported him clinically dead at one point as he slipped into a coma.

He is currently being treated at a military hospital in Cairo.

Devastating economic crisis

In January, Egypt's highest court, the Court of Cassation, ordered a retrial for Mubarak after accepting an appeal against his life sentence, citing procedural failings.

Adly had also been sentenced to life over his involvement in the deaths of the protesters, but controversially his security chiefs had been acquitted, sparking widespread anger and protests after the verdict in June.

President Mohammed Morsi, who won elections last June on the Muslim Brotherhood's ticket, had pledged new trials for former regime officials, including Mubarak, implicated in the protesters' deaths.

But Morsi's presidency has been plagued by unrest and deadly clashes between protesters and police, a revolt in the canal cities, sectarian violence and a devastating economic crisis, in what many fear is bringing Egypt to the brink of chaos.

"The country is largely unlikely to pay attention to the trial," said H.A Hellyer, a non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institution.

"There is the potential that the ruling party use the trial to deflect attention from the problems they are facing," Hellyer told AFP.

But despite the fact that what happens to Mubarak seems of little relevance to many, there is still widespread anger over the fact that no one has been held accountable for nearly 900 deaths during the 18-day uprising.

Mubarak's epic fall from power, from the dictatorial head of the Arab world's most populous nation to a defendant behind bars, was for many a promising sign the revolution which toppled him was on the right track.

But the case against the former president verged on the farcical, with patchwork evidence and prosecution witnesses exonerating the defendants, according to legal experts.



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