Hosni Mubarak’s trial will be set in a huge Cairo convention center with hundreds of seats for an audience, heavy security and a metal defendants’ cage large enough to hold the man who ruled Egypt unchallenged for three decades, his two sons and seven associates, judicial officials have said.
Health Minister Amr Helmy said on Thursday that Mr. Mubarak, 83, is well enough to be moved from a hospital in the Sinai resort of Sharm Al Sheikh, where he is under arrest, to Cairo. He will face charges of corruption and ordering the killings of protesters during the uprising that toppled him in February.
“Mr. Mubarak’s health is in appropriate condition for him to be tried in Cairo,” Mr. Helmy told reporters.
Protests have escalated recently clamoring for Mr. Mubarak and other former regime stalwarts to be brought to justice over the killings of protesters and other crimes over the years. Many activists say the ruling military council which took power from the ousted president - and is headed by Mr. Mubarak’s former defense minister - is dragging its feet on the prosecutions.
A few hundred hard-core protesters have erected a tent camp in Cairo’s Tahrir Square - the epicenter of the uprising - to press for speedier trials, and a march last week to the headquarters of the Supreme Council of the Armed forces ended with more than 100 people injured after men armed with rocks and sticks attacked them.
Many protesters received the announcement with deep skepticism.
“I think they will find some excuse for him not to come to Cairo,” said activist Marwa Nasser. “We’ve been guessing that they’ll announce that he’s dead, or that security reasons keep him from going on TV. Even if he comes, people doubt that we’ll ever see him in the cage or on TV.”
The plans for the trial venue show the judiciary wants to make it a public spectacle.
Deputy Justice Minister Mohammed Munie told state news agency MENA that a final decision has been made to hold the trial at Cairo’s Convention Center, not far from Mubarak’s Cairo home and normally a venue for book fairs and trade shows.
Mr. Munie said a large building within the center will be outfitted with enough chairs for lawyers, a special section for journalists and seating for “an audience that is connected to the case” - likely to include relatives of about 850 people killed during the uprising.
Electronic doors will be installed at entrances, and the army and the interior ministry will handle security.
A member of a judicial team that visited the building Thursday said the trial room would probably have stadium-style seating for hundreds of people. Speaking on condition of anonymity because final decisions had not been made, he said the team was considering erecting large screens around the convention center to allow others to watch from outside.
Inside the courtroom will be an iconic scene from Egyptian trials - a single metal cage where the accused are held. Under the old regime, the media often featured images of Mr. Mubarak foes seated in such cages.
Mr Munie said the convention center cage will be large enough to hold Mr. Mubarak, his two sons and seven of their associates who have been lumped together in one case. There is an 11th defendant who is being tried in absentia.
Mr. Mubarak’s sons Alaa and Gamal, who have been in a Cairo prison since April, are facing charges of corruption. Mr. Mubarak had been grooming Gamal to succeed him before his ouster. Prominent businessman and Mr. Mubarak confidant Hussein Salem is being tried in absentia. He has fled to Spain, and Egypt is demanding his extradition.
Former Interior Minister Habib Al Adly and six high-ranking security officers are charged with ordering the killing of protesters during the 18-day uprising.
The former president is being tried for both corruption and ordering the killings of protesters. His family is suspected of amassing billions of dollars from corrupt business dealings while nearly half the 85 million people in his country subsisted at poverty levels around $2 a day or less.
Frequent reports that Mr. Mubarak’s health has been faltering raised speculation that the trial would be held in Sharm Al Sheikh, the Red Sea resort where he has been under arrest in a hospital. Most recently, doctors treating Mr. Mubarak said he was weak and had lost weight from refusing to eat. They also said he suffers from severe depression.
That led to speculation that the trial could be delayed because of health reasons - something that would likely infuriate protesters and activists.
Khaled Sayed of the Muslim Brotherhood’s youth movement said the announcement shows the need for protesters to keep pressure on the army, but he still doesn’t expect to see Mr. Mubarak’s trial any time soon.
“I doubt it, but as long as there is a schedule for the trial, we have to be patient to see if it happens,” he said. “If it doesn’t, then we have to reveal the scandal of the military council to the public.”
An appeals judge must still formally announce Mr. Mubarak’s transfer to Cairo. But according to Egyptian law, the defendant must physically appear in court.
“Egyptian law stipulates that a judge must hear the defendant’s testimony with his own ear, and physically be in the same room as the defendant,” Nasser Amin, a lawyer with the Arab Center for the Independence of the Judiciary, told The Associated Press.