Mubarak trial verdict may divide Egypt further

Hosni Mubarak faces charges of complicity in the killing of some 900 protesters during last year`s uprising that forced him from power.

Updated: Jun 01, 2012, 08:57 AM IST

Cairo: Guilty or not, Saturdays verdict in Hosni Mubarak`s trial will likely deepen Egypt`s polarisation. Political tensions are already simmering in a heated runoff for the job of president, pitting the ousted leader`s last prime minister against an Islamist from a group that the old regime repeatedly cracked down.

The 84-year-old Mubarak, the first Arab leader to be tried by his own people, faces charges of complicity in the killing of some 900 protesters during last year`s uprising that forced him from power.

If convicted, he could face the death penalty. He also faced separate corruption charges along with his two sons - one-time heir apparent Gamal and wealthy businessman Alaa, and a family friend who is on the run.

"We are so eagerly awaiting the verdict," said George Ishaq, who gained nationwide fame as a vocal critic of Mubarak`s rule. "An innocent verdict will trigger a horrific reaction."

His trial mesmerised the nation, with images of him lying on a hospital gurney inside a defendants` cage of iron bars and barbed wire taken by most Egyptians to symbolise both their triumph over tyranny and the humiliation of a dictator who ruled for close to 30 years.

He rarely spoke and when it was time for him to address the court in his own defence, he chose to submit a letter in which he pleaded his innocence.

While in progress, the trial dominated the national conversation and fed tension in an already turbulent transitional period under the tutelage of the ruling generals who took over from him, with many convinced the process was just for show to appease protesters who demanded that Mubarak answers for his actions.

Mubarak loyalists frequently fought with relatives of dead protesters outside the court, a lecture hall in a police academy once named after him. Lawyers seeking damage for the victims` families, as well as publicity, occasionally chanted slogans against him in court.

The verdict comes just days after electoral officials announced that Mubarak`s last prime minister and one-time protégé Ahmed Shafiq is one of two candidates who made it into a presidential runoff slated for June 16-17.

Like his mentor, Shafiq is a career air force officer. He and Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood emerged from last week`s first round vote as the top vote-getters in a field of 13 candidates.

Morsi`s candidacy has raised serious concern among many Egyptians that he would inject more religion into government if he wins. Others fear Morsi`s Brotherhood, empowered after spending the best part of the last 60 years as an illegal organisation, will become the nation`s new dictatorship, a possibility that`s intensely propagated by some in the official media.