Hosni Mubarak’s trial resumes Monday with witnesses giving testimony to try to determine who gave the orders for killing of hundreds of protesters in the revolt that ousted Egypt’s veteran president.
The trial is to be held off-camera unlike the first two sessions which saw the 83-year-old Mubarak appearing in court bound to a stretcher and caged, in gripping images that were broadcast live on television.
The decision to stop the live television broadcast was taken by trial judge Ahmed Refaat, who was apparently exasperated by the charged atmosphere in the courtroom at the last hearing as an army of lawyers jostled for position.
Mubarak’s dramatic appearance in court came as a shock to Egyptians who were glued to watching the proceedings on television, never having believed he would be forced to go on trial.
After the adjournment of the August 15 session, several relatives of victims and some lawyers jumped on a bench and started chanting “Execution!” at Mubarak as he was wheeled out of the cage.
Thousands of riot police were also deployed along with armoured cars outside the court to keep apart pro- and anti-Mubarak demonstrators watching the trial session on a giant outdoor screen.
After the earlier two formal sessions, the court will on Monday begin questioning to try to determine who gave the order for the shooting of protesters during the January-February revolution.
“The court will hear four witnesses, including the head of communications in the central security force and officers responsible for operations from the same force,” the government daily Al-Ahram said.
The court would investigate whether the orders to fire on the crowd were given solely by the interior ministry or if Mubarak was also implicated.
More than 850 people were killed in the 18 days that led to Mubarak’s ouster after a three-decade rule and thousands more were wounded, according to official figures.
Former interior minister Habib al-Adli is being prosecuted along with Mubarak for suppressing the popular uprising. Those found guilty for the deaths could face execution.
Mubarak’s sons Gamal and Alaa are being tried for corruption along with their father. They all pleaded not guilty to the graft charges in the first hearing which was held on August 3.
The former president, who suffers from heart problems and depression, is in custody in a hospital near Cairo, while reports that he was also suffering from cancer have been denied.
His sons are being held in the Tora prison complex on the southern outskirts of Cairo.
A wealthy businessman close to the former presidential clan, Hussein Salem, is being tried in absentia in the same trial.
Three Kuwaiti lawyers flew in in Cairo on Sunday to join Mubarak’s defence team. Their leader Faisal al-Oteibi told reporters at the airport that two more colleagues would follow.
“We are five Kuwaiti lawyers and have come to defend Hosni Mubarak out of gratitude,” she said, referring to the former president’s support for Kuwait during its occupation by Saddam Hussein’s forces in 1990-1991.
But Egypt’s independent newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm quoted Justice Minister Justice Abdel Aziz al-Gindi as saying no formal request had been submitted or granted for the Kuwaiti lawyers to take part in the trial.
Mubarak is the most high-profile leader to appear in person in court after having been ousted in this year’s “Arab Spring.”
Tunisia’s ex-president Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, in exile in Saudi Arabia since his overthrow in January, was tried in absentia in Tunisia, while Libya’s Moamer Kadhafi has become a fugitive since the fall of Tripoli late last month.
Legal experts say a thorough probe of Mubarak’s alleged crimes should have taken several more months, but Egypt’s ruling military to which he handed power and the government has expedited the process to mollify protesters.