Cairo – Egypt’s top prosecutor on Tuesday ordered former President Hosni Mubarak to stand trial in connection with the killing of unarmed protesters during the 18-day-revolt that forced him from power, yielding to one of the revolution’s top demands just days before many of its organizers had vowed to return to Tahrir Square for another day of protest.
In a statement, Egyptian prosecutor Mahmoud Abdel-Meguid said he would also charge Mr. Mubarak and his two sons, Gamal and Alaa, with corruption and self-dealing. The prosecutor also plans to file charges against a businessman close to the family, Hussein Salem Among other ventures, Mr. Salem was part owner of a company involved in an Egyptian government deal to sell natural gas to Israel that is now under investigation..
The announcement of the trials on the eve of the four-month mark of the Jan. 25 revolution — which was made by a prosecutor Mr. Mubarak appointed, under the direction of an interim government headed by his former defense minister —is the clearest indication yet that the Egyptian authorities are moving to satisfy the public demand for retribution against the Mubarak family even before the parliamentary elections expected this fall.
Mr. Mubarak, 83, has been under indefinite detention while recovering from a heart attack in a hospital near his Sharm el-Sheik home. His sons are in a Cairo jail along with over a dozen other figures from the Mubarak regime. But until now no charges were filed. Early reports Tuesday from the official Egyptian news services had said the Mubarak sons would also be charged in connection with the deaths of the protesters, a prospect that was not ultimately mentioned in the prosecutor’s written statement.
Farid el-Deeb, a criminal defense lawyer representing the Mubaraks, declined to comment, saying he would speak in court.
Protestors and activists here interpreted the timing as the latest evidence of their continuing power. Organizers of the demonstrations that toppled Mr. Mubarak had called this Friday April 27, “The Second Egyptian Revolution” or “the Revolution Part II,” and urged a massive turnout to press a variety of demands including swifter legal action against Mr. Mubarak and his associates, an end to the so-called emergency law authorizing extra-legal arrests and detentions, a deferral of parliamentary elections until new liberal parties have more time to organize, or even further revision of the constitution before any elections.
“This was the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces way of showing that it is listening to the people’s demands,” said Ghada Shahbandar, a human rights advocate close to the organizers.
Again and again since the revolution, she and other organizers say, the military council running the country during the transition has appeared aloof from public input but then yielded quickly when protestors returned in force to the streets. That was evident with the firing of the former prime minister and again with the decision to release from custody hundreds of protestors by the end of last week.
“Negotiation is useless,” said Shady el-Ghazali Harb, one of the principle organizers of the Tahrir Square protests. “The only thing that works is going back to Tahrir, but then they back down.”
Although Mr. Mubarak’s indefinite detention had signaled prosecutors expected to bring serious charges against him, it was unclear whether they would accuse him of complicity in the killing of protestors as well as corruption. Nearly 850 people died during the 18-day-uprising, Egyptian officials say, many of them from police bullets. Mr. Mubarak’s former interior minister, Habib el-Adly, was recently sentenced to twelve years in prison for corruption and he awaits another trial on charges related to his own role in the deaths of protestors.
Earlier this week an Egyptian criminal court sentenced a police officer to death over the killing of about 20 protesters on one of the early days of the demonstrations. But he was tried in absentia, and lawyers say the severity of the sentence could reflect his failure to appear and might be revised on appeal.