The legal proceedings against former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak opened without drama today.
But for the family members of those killed in the Jan. 25 uprising, the sight of the former president in a criminal court docket was deeply emotional.
Today’s proceedings were straightforward, with Mubarak entering a “not guilty” plea and lawyers from both sides presenting statements; the trial won’t reconvene until Aug. 15.
But during the session, there was Mubarak, lying in a special bed inside the cage for Egyptian criminal defendants. While he was lying in the bed, many observers indicated his health looked pretty strong, belying pre-trial reports coming from his camp that he was near death.
To American observers, seeing any defendant in a cage seems medieval, but it’s standard procedure in Egyptian criminal trials. Several years ago it was noted sociologist Saad Ibrahim who stood in a cage while brought up on charges related to his pro-democracy work.
Now Mubarak is getting the same treatment. And to the family members of the estimated 800 people who were killed during the Jan. 25 uprising, that sight was an important step toward earning a new era of justice, something that had been denied the Egyptians for three decades under the Mubarak regime.
Democracy Now posted this photo outside the courtroom of a mother of a young man killed in the uprising. The woman told reporter Shari Kouddous that she was “overjoyed” to see justice happening. Kouddous in turn called it “a defining moment in the revolution and in Egypt’s history.”
Justice for Egyptian victims is more than a slogan. Amnesty International believes it’s an essential step toward establishment of a new Egypt based on human rights and rejecting a past where security forces acted with impunity.
“But if the trial is going to be a meaningful break with Egypt’s record of impunity, it must be both fair and transparent – justice demands no less,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s Director for the Middle East and North Africa. “Not only must the trial be fair but it must be seen to be fair, not least by the families of those who died during the protests.”
The man who once was “king” is now facing the consequences of his actions. How the trial plays out over the next weeks will be a important test of just what Egypt’s future might look like.