CAIRO (AFP) – The retrial of Egypt’s former president Hosni Mubarak begins on Saturday in Cairo, with the fate of the ousted strongman largely eclipsed by the deadly turmoil and economic woes gripping the country.
His original trial in August 2011 was a major moment for both Egypt and the region as it was the first time an Arab leader deposed by his people had appeared in court in person.
But dramatic scenes such as an ailing Mubarak being wheeled on a stretcher into a barred cage are unlikely to be repeated.
Mubarak, his interior minister Habib al-Adly and six security chiefs will be in the dock again over their alleged complicity in the murder and attempted murder of hundreds of peaceful protesters on January 25-31, 2011.
The toppled despot’s sons Gamal and Alaa — once symbols of power and wealth — will also be retried on corruption charges. Another defendant, 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.
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.
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 for involvement in the deaths of protesters, but controversially his security chiefs were acquitted, sparking widespread anger and protests after last June’s verdict.
President Mohamed Morsi, who won elections that same month on the Muslim Brotherhood’s ticket, had pledged new trials for former regime officials including Mubarak.
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.
“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,” he told AFP.
But despite the fact that what happens to Mubarak seems of little relevance to many, there is still widespread anger over no one being held accountable for nearly 900 deaths during the 18-day uprising in 2011.
Mubarak’s epic fall, from 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 him verged on the farcical, with patchwork evidence and prosecution witnesses exonerating the defendants, according to legal experts.