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Egypt

Mubarak's trial causes controversy in Egypt

Former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak will stand trial again. But after Saturday's adjournment, the question is when. Egyptians are following the legal procedures closely.

Where did all the workmen come from, and above all: Why did they come?

In early April, workmen entered the estate in Sharm el-Sheikh where Mubarak had lived and which has stood empty for two years. The workers refurbished the building, prompting an instant wave of rumors in Egypt, still politically a highly nervous country. There were speculations that the former president may be allowed to return to his villa to enjoy his remaining years there. Most Egyptians still begrudge him such a life of luxury.

Those concerns later turned out to be unfounded. In the meantime, Egypt's Attorney General Talaat Abdullah had opened a new trial against Mubarak. The court will decide on possible misappropriation of state funds which were supposed to be used for the renovation of the presidential palace.

They're comparably minor charges. But both legally and symbolically, these new charges are significant, because they guarantee one simple fact: Mubarak must stay in custody. He has spent the last two years in pre-trial custody because of separate unfinished trials. But Egyptian law says nobody can be kept in pre-trial custody for more than two years.

Talaat Abdullah

Attorney General Talaat Abdullah made sure Mubarak remained in custody

Responsible for death of 800 people

At the same time, the new trial only marks the transition to another, in which a separate question will be dealt with that has considerably more weight: How much responsibility does Mubarak have for the death of some 800 Egyptians who were killed between January and July 2011 – the months of the Egyptian revolution?

The court's ruling in the first trial was relatively mild. The judges called Mubarak guilty of not having complied with his duty of protection that came with his position as president. Mubarak was given a life sentence. But the court acquitted him of accusations which said he had known and approved of the mission orders that led to the protesters' deaths. That sentence was later annulled by an appeals court.

Now it's down to the question of whether the court will allow new pieces of evidence to be brought forward. That decision will largely determine Mubarak's fate in the future. If the judges reject new pieces of evidence, the old ruling would probably be confirmed and be made final. But new pieces of evidence could mean that the protesters' deaths would be seen in a different light: that Mubarak knew of the mission orders, but didn't stop them.

He would have implicitly approved of them, according to Göttingen-based lawyer Naseef Naeem. "That could mean the death penalty for him, instead of a life sentence," he added. But other observers say it's unlikely that he would draw a heavier sentence.

Critics suspect political motivation

Legal experts are skeptical of the new trial's legal basis. President Mohammed Morsi signed two constitutional declarations in 2012, said Naeem, an expert on the legal system in the Arab world. These declarations foresee that a fresh investigation be undertaken into all crimes connected to the protesters' death - if there is new evidence on the table.

In November 2012, Morsi also passed a so-called law on the protection of the revolution. "The law explicitly states that new trials are to be held against all crimes committed by the state authorities during the Egyptian revolution of 2011 – even in cases where there have already been final rulings," explained Naeem.

Ägypten Proteste Demonstration Jahrestag Rücktritt Mubarak

Egyptians protested against President Morsi on the second anniversary of Mubarak's resignation

What troubles legal experts like Naeem is that the new trial might be politically motivated. "During his election campaign, Morsi promised a revision of the judgment passed against Mubarak. That's highly controversial in my view."

Mubarak's fate now depends on whether or not the court will allow new pieces of evidence. Mubarak's lawyers have rejected them. Public prosecutors argue in favor of them, and base their demand on the revolution law passed by Morsi.

End of an era

Whatever the outcome of the trial, Mubarak's era is over. The second trial against the former president may still make some waves. But Egyptians today face different problems. The country's economy is in a disastrous situation. And the citizens can't agree on their country's political identity.

While some want to turn Egypt into an Islamic state, others cling to its secular character. In this situation, explained legal expert Naeem, the upcoming trial loses some of its significance. "Whether the trial takes place or not won't change anything about Egypt's current problems," he said.

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