Cairo – Testimony on Thursday in the criminal case against former President Hosni Mubarak implicated top officials for the first time in ordering the use of force against demonstrators. The evidence added to a patchwork of contradictory accounts that have cast a shadow over the first days of the proceedings.
The testimony was the first clear step forward for the prosecution, which was left reeling after its first five witnesses — all police officials — recanted what prosecutors said were their initial statements about instructions from senior police officials to use live ammunition or other force against the protesters. The prosecutors apparently intended to build their case from the bottom up, starting with the orders issued to police officers confronting the demonstrators.
But those efforts have now been all but cast aside, first by the unexpected police testimony and then by the judge’s decision to order the country’s top two military officials to testify. On Wednesday, the judge called on Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi and Gen. Sami Enan to give testimony in a closed proceeding beginning Sunday. The two men were members of Mr. Mubarak’s inner circle before seizing power in the name of the revolution.
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Thursday’s testimony did not recount explicit discussions about using live ammunition or any direct actions by Mr. Mubarak. However, the testimony did feature a highly placed former police officer saying publicly for the first time that in the early days of the revolt, Mr. Mubarak’s interior minister, Habib el-Adly, instructed his aides to use all necessary means to stop protesters from reaching Tahrir Square in the center of Cairo. Mr. Adly is also a defendant in the trial.
According to several accounts of the testimony, the witness — Hussein Abdel Hamid, who was an assistant to Mr. Adly for security forces — recounted a meeting of top Interior Ministry aides to prepare for the huge “Friday of Rage” demonstration scheduled for Jan. 28. Mr. Abdel Hamid told the court that in the meeting, Mr. Adly asked Ahmed Ramzy, the head of Egypt’s central security police, “Are you up to it?”
Mr. Abdel Hamid’s testimony strongly implied but did not explicitly state that the top Interior Ministry officials intended to use deadly force against the protesters as part of an operation called Plan 100. Mr. Abdel Hamid said he argued against the use of excessive force and was then pushed aside.
He testified that he had no knowledge of any instructions from Mr. Mubarak himself. Even so, experts on the Mubarak government — a very tightly controlled system of one-man rule — expressed doubt that Mr. Adly would have planned a response to the protests without the president’s approval.
Speaking for the first time during the trial, Mr. Adly strongly disputed the testimony, according to several people who were present.
He and Mr. Mubarak are each charged with conspiring to direct the killing of protesters during the 18 days of demonstrations that brought down the Egyptian autocrat. Mr. Adly has already been convicted and sentenced to 12 years in prison on separate charges of corruption; Mr. Mubarak also faces corruption charges.
Thursday was the fifth session of the trial, which lawyers say may last for months. Prosecutors expected the first five witnesses to offer testimony mostly relating to instructions and preparations by Mr. Ramzy to use live ammunition against demonstrators. Though they reportedly made such statements to the prosecutors before the trial, each of the five said in open court that they knew of no such directions about shooting demonstrators. At least one officer said the police were urged to use “self restraint.”
The reversals have intensified doubts about the prosecutors, who are holdovers from the Mubarak government. Human rights lawyers representing shooting victims who died during the demonstrations have complained for weeks that the prosecutors are ill-suited to try their former boss.
The human rights lawyers say they have more confidence in the judge, Ahmed Rafaat. Though he upset lawyers for the victims and the Egyptian public by ending the broadcast of the trial, human rights lawyers note that he displayed an independent streak under Mr. Mubarak. They also note that he once acquitted 16 accused members of the Muslim Brotherhood against the wishes of Mr. Mubarak’s government, and that in another instance he refused to hear a political case against two judges who had reported election forgeries.
Lawyers for all sides are now anxiously awaiting the secret testimony on Sunday of Field Marshal Tantawi, the former defense minister and close ally of Mr. Mubarak who oversaw the president’s ouster after 18 days of protests. Since then, Field Marshal Tantawi has led a military council that is the supreme power in Egypt, having suspended the Mubarak government’s Parliament and Constitution.
State news organizations reported Thursday that the court had officially notified Field Marshal Tantawi of his summons to testify. But almost no one believes that the judge would have announced the summons without prior discussion with Field Marshal Tantawi and other top military officials. Instead, speculation has centered on Field Marshal Tantawi’s motives in agreeing to appear. Many Egyptians say they believe that the top military officials are reluctant to convict or further humiliate their commander in chief.
A military spokesman declined to comment.