The murder trial in Egypt of ousted leader Hosni Mubarak is politically charged but legally weak, lawyers say, predicting a verdict before the anniversary of the uprising that overthrew him in order to placate the public.
The historic trial could see the fallen dictator, his former interior minister Habib al-Adly and six security chiefs sent to the gallows if convicted of complicity in the deaths of peaceful protesters during the uprising launched on January 25.
The political significance of the trial is clear, as Mubarak is the first Arab dictator toppled by the Arab Spring revolts to appear in court.
But the strength of the case against him leaves much to be desired, lawyers say.
Lawyers also voiced concern that the military, criticised for its handling of the transition, has used the trial to show it is responsive to popular will, rather than to serve justice.
“There is little evidence, legally speaking, incriminating Mubarak,” said Gamal Eid, a lawyer representing those who died during the revolt.
“The prosecutor’s arguments sounded more like a political speech than a legal case,” he told AFP.
“Even the prosecution admits the case is weak,” he said, after prosecutors accused the interior ministry and intelligence services of hampering the case by refusing to cooperate.
On Thursday, prosecutors delivered an emotional appeal to the court to sentence Mubarak to hang as they wrapped up their closing arguments.
“Calling for the death penalty does not mean a death sentence,” said Eid, who explained that by simply asking for the death penalty prosecutors could placate protesters calling for a mass rally on January 25.
Following tense months marked by deadly clashes between protesters and the army, the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces is eager to show that it is fulfilling its promise of bringing those accused of abuse to justice.
But despite the weak evidence against Mubarak, an acquittal would likely inflame public opinion.
“In the current circumstances, the authorities want to calm the general mood. They will either sentence Mubarak before January 25 or at least set a date for sentencing before January 25,” Eid said.
“Whatever verdict comes out will be political. The trial should not be political. We wanted a fair trial, even for Mubarak,” he said.
The ailing former president, 83, went on trial in August, following a short investigation period. The trial has been choppy, with brief hearings, a three month hiatus and incomplete testimonies, lawyers said.
“The process was rushed,” said Mohammed Abdel Wahab, another lawyer attending the hearings.
“The prosecution said that evidence was very difficult to come by although thanks to technology, the whole world was watching the crimes happen in real time,” via the media and social networking sites, Abdel Wahab said.
“It is a drama that is very well directed,” said Yasser al-Shaarawy, another lawyer.
Activists who joined the protests that toppled Mubarak last year say they would have rather seen him tried for abuse and mismanagement committed during his 30 years in power rather than for events that took place during a few days of the uprising.
“Most of what the prosecution said was rhetoric. It doesn’t sound like a well-built case,” said longtime political activist Wael Khalil.
“The case doesn’t address the torture and disappearances,” that took place under Mubarak, he said.