The Egyptian revolution may well have been televised, but the trial of Hosni Mubarak, whose downfall it secured, is about to go off the airwaves.
Presiding judge Ahmed Rifaat's ruling that live courtroom coverage of proceedings will no longer be permitted means that millions of Egyptians, some of whom have been glued to the images of their previously untouchable leader lying caged in the dock of a makeshift courtroom, will no longer be able to watch justice being done from the comfort of their living rooms. Perhaps more troubling are accusations from some activists and relatives of those who died during the 25 January uprising that the decision could obscure justice.
Egypt's ruling military council, which took power after Mubarak was toppled in February, has received harsh criticism from people who believe it has been too sluggish in prosecuting former regime officials. When generals announced last month that Mubarak's trial would be televised, many saw it as an olive branch to protesters worried about a lack of transparency.
Mohammad Quessy, who attended the former president's first hearing earlier this month, said: "By showing the trial on TV it calmed the people. Why are they not showing it again? It doesn't make sense. I honestly think it's a bad idea."
Yet yesterday's announcement, during Mubarak's second preliminary appearance, was met with widespread support from lawyers and other relatives of those who died. Scenes during the trial have often been unedifying, with scores of lawyers shouting across the courtroom. The frenetic scenes have led to accusations that many of the lawyers are simply vying to make a name for themselves; posturing for the cameras in the knowledge the world is watching. Mostafa Hussein, a 26-year-old whose brother Mahmoud was allegedly killed by police during the uprising, said he would be happy to see the cameras go. "The lawyers are using the trial to become famous," he said. "They don't want anything else."
Mubarak, 83, who now claims to be suffering from cancer, stands accused of ordering the killing of protesters, along with his former interior minister, Habib al-Adly, who will be tried alongside him when proceedings resume on 5 September. Mubarak's two sons, Gamal and Alaa, who yesterday tried to shield their father from the TV cameras as they stood in the dock alongside him, are charged with corruption.
Defence lawyers for the former president have demanded that Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi, who currently leads the country as head of its military council, must testify in court. Other observers worry whether Mubarak can even get a fair trial. "It is more about pleasing public opinion," said human rights lawyer Adel Ramadan.
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