In a courtroom holding about 50 people, including Hosni Mubarak, the Cassation Court declared the ousted president, one last time, not guilty of ordering the killing of protesters during the demonstrations of the 2011 revolution.
The 88-year-old is now free of all restrictive measures for the first time since his arrest in April 2011, since which he has spent most of his time between hospitals in the resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh and the affluent south Cairo neighborhood of Maadi.
About 20 of his supporters were present in the courtroom for the last session of his trial, held in the Police Academy in New Cairo. They came in wearing necklaces with his name engraved on them, holding a banner reading: “The October victory is innocent” (Mubarak was air force commander in the 1973 war) and congratulating each other: “We will see the president today!”
The small crowd also included around five civil rights defenders and 20 journalists, but cameras were banned by court order. Victims’ families were not allowed in the courtroom either.
The scene was a world apart from Mubarak’s first court appearance in August 2011, when hundreds of his supporters and revolutionaries surrounded the courtroom, which was overcrowded with local and international media, eager to witness the start of “the trial of the century.” Egyptians were glued to television screens in disbelief as their leader for 30 years, now ousted and lying on a stretcher behind bars, spoke on air. “Yes, I am present,” he said, after the judge called his name.
Yesterday Mubarak’s words went by without much of a buzz as he appeared in the court’s detention area, answering the judge, “Yes I can hear you, I can hear you well,” before denying the charges against him one more time, saying: “It didn’t happen.”
Mubarak’s oldest son, Alaa, made a surprise appearance, entering the courtroom in jeans, a brown buttoned-up shirt and blue pullover, taking his place on the bench among supporters and journalists, and listening intently to defense lawyer Farid al-Deeb’s closing statement. He nodded politely and responded courteously to supporters flooding him with compliments and requests.
Deeb, the preferred lawyer of the ruling elite, entered the room chewing on his trademark cigar, but with a body visibly emaciated as a result of illness. The 73-year-old was still able to speak for approximately four hours, however, only asking for one break throughout. His statement was delivered with the confidence he’s known for, complete with dramatic impersonations.
Deeb’s main argument was based on erasing all violence committed by police against protesters back in 2011. “The whole police force didn’t do anything,” he declared. “None of this happened, not the shooting, not the running over people, nothing.”
He said the accusations that Mubarak ordered the killing of protesters was “nonsense,” citing the final acquittal that Mubarak’s interior minister, Habib al-Adly, and his aides received in 2015 on the same charges. Deeb argued this means the crimes Mubarak is accused of colluding in never even occurred.
Deeb’s most dramatic performance came as he recounted Mubarak’s response when his presidential guard voiced concerns that protesters were heading to his residence. Raising his hand, Deeb acted, as if in imitation of Mubarak, yelling: “No one harm them or shoot them, even if they break into my bedroom and take me and my children!”
He also offered one of the most toned-down narratives of how Mubarak left office at the end of the 18-day uprising in 2011, suggesting that the president wasn’t attached to his position: “As soon as he heard people were demanding he leave, he said, ‘Oh, you want me to leave? Right now, you mean? Alright then, thank you very much, goodbye.’ And then he resigned and thought, ‘I’ll go live in Sharm el-Sheikh’.”
Deeb didn’t miss the opportunity to insinuate that things have gone south since Mubarak left, asserting that his client’s first response to the news of protests was to gather his ministers and ask them to fix the problems that people were complaining about. “We don’t see this happening anymore. If two people get together somewhere now, they could be arrested under the stipulations of the Protest Law,” he said scornfully.
It was expected that the session would be uneventful, but when the judges took over an hour to deliberate, those present started to wonder if they would actually issue a ruling. Suspicions were reinforced when a police officer addressed the room before the judges returned, mentioning the importance of maintaining order “regardless of what the decision might be.”
The judges then came in and swiftly, almost as they were sitting back down, announced Mubarak’s acquittal, to the elation of the former president’s supporters — who jumped up crying, ululating and huddling around the glass separating them from him to send kisses and remote congratulations.
Mubarak then gave up the neutral expression maintained throughout his court appearances to smile and wave at his supporters as security pushed him out of the detention area.