Middle East

Celebration and dissatisfaction greet Mubarak verdict

Relative of victims outside court

After a long wait in the harsh sun outside Cairo's Police Academy courthouse, relatives of some of those killed in last year's uprising were quick to celebrate the life sentences handed down to the ousted president Hosni Mubarak and his hated interior minister Habib al-Adly, for complicity to murder.

There were loud cracks of fireworks and groups marched jubilantly past the surrounding lines of riot police shouting "Egypt, Egypt" and "God is great".

Some kissed the concrete beneath their feet and kneeled in prayer.

The first signs of dissatisfaction came from inside the courtroom when six police commanders were cleared of involvement in the deaths of the protesters. A corruption case against Mubarak and his two sons was also dismissed.

Then there were scuffles and cries of "the people want to cleanse the judiciary".

"The verdict was a scandal. What happened today was beyond belief," said a prosecution lawyer, Kadry Fayid.

"While the judge condemned Mubarak for killing the victims of the revolution, he acquitted all the other officers who performed the orders he gave."

The lawyer promised that new cases would be filed against the officers who include the former head of the Central Security Forces, Egypt's riot police, and the former head of Cairo security.

While the rights group, Human Rights Watch, concluded that the trial was overall "in accordance with international fair trial principles" it also questioned the acquittal of the Ministry of Interior officers saying that this left "police impunity intact".

The presiding judge, Ahmed Refaat, had mentioned the deficiencies in the prosecution's case before announcing the verdicts, pointing out that some evidence had been destroyed and a witness had lied.

Political capital

Small-scale clashes broke out by the courthouse as youths supporting Egypt's former leader moved in, throwing stones. Riot police wielding batons tried to break up the fighting.

It was not long before most of the families of victims had left. Some planned to join the crowds already swelling in Tahrir Square in central Cairo, close to where so many lives were lost in January last year, in the uprising which ousted Mubarak.

Elsewhere in the country, in Alexandria and Suez, demonstrations were also under way.

Image caption Mubarak supporters were distraught

For opponents of the former government, fears are high that the sentences handed down to Mubarak and al-Adly could be overturned on appeal.

The influential Muslim Brotherhood has sought to make political capital out of the situation, alleging that Egypt's unreformed institutions withheld evidence and calling on its members to join protests.

Ahmed Shafiq, one of the two candidates in this month's presidential election and himself a figure from the Mubarak era, has responded to the outcome of the trial saying that all verdicts "must be accepted" and that the rulings will serve as a "historic lesson" for all future presidents.

Yet Mr Shafiq's close relationship with the former president, who he has previously referred to as a father figure, worries young revolutionaries. Many speculate that he would pardon 84-year-old Mubarak if he came to power.

In Alexandria, there have been chants against him at the latest rallies with protesters shouting that they will "beat him" with their shoes, a sign of disrespect.

"I tell Ahmed Shafiq that you will not take any post in the future, we need a president who joined the revolution and will organise a retrial," said Mustafa Ibrahim, the brother of an army recruit killed last year.

It is a reminder that it is impossible to separate the fallout from this trial from the current political situation that places Egypt at a difficult crossroads.

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