Middle East

Hosni Mubarak trial: Big test for new Egypt

Hosni Mubarak is brought into court in Cairo in this image from state TV
Image caption Mr Mubarak's first appearance in court shocked the nation

Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who is charged with ordering the deaths of hundreds of protesters, has appeared in court for the second time. His trial is a big test for the new Egypt, says BBC Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen in Cairo.

As Mr Mubarak, old and ill, was wheeled into the courtroom, a man dressed in a white prison uniform turned away from the stretcher, shook his head in exasperation and put his hand over the lens of the television camera that was relaying the scene live to millions of rapt viewers.

The man was Alaa Mubarak, once a prince of the old regime, one of the ex-president's two sons who have been brought down by his father's disgrace.

Gamal, his brother, was the heir apparent, the crown prince.

Both are charged with corruption alongside the former president, who also faces a capital charge of murder.

They spent much of their time in the prisoner's cage in the courtroom trying to shield their father from the cameras.

'Cover-up'

The euphoria of the revolution that ousted Mr Mubarak in February faded very fast.

Egypt faces a list of problems that will not be solved easily or quickly.

But it is still remarkable to see the man who was the absolute ruler of Egypt behind bars in a courtroom in a hospital bed, flanked by sons whose lives of wealth, privilege and power have changed beyond measure.

Millions of Arabs - who have found the two sessions so far of the Mubarak trial compulsive viewing - won't, it seems, get the chance to see part three live.

When the court reconvenes on 5 September, moving from procedure to substance, according to Judge Ahmed Rifaat, cameras will be banned from the courtroom.

It is assumed that Judge Rifaat wants lawyers to stop showing off, though some Egyptians will smell a cover-up.

Bad omens

The trial is still a solid achievement for Egypt's revolutionaries, a distraction in an unhappy, fretful country.

Image caption Mubarak supporters chanted slogans outside the court

It is also a big test for the new Egypt.

Once again the omens were not good, with the judge struggling to bring order to what had become judicial chaos - and outside the courthouse riot police charging opponents of the former president after they clashed with Mubarak supporters.

The trial is being held at what used to be called the Mubarak police academy.

The police were expecting trouble outside, and so were Mr Mubarak's supporters. His opponents brought their own rocks.

"We don't want Mr Mubarak humiliated," one of his supporters said. "That humiliates all Egyptians."

His opponents brandished hangman's nooses, demanding his execution.

Not long after the ex-president was wheeled into the courtroom cage, the riot started outside.

The police waded in, but could not stop men - and even a few women - trading rocks and punches. A lot of hatred was stored up in the Mubarak years.

Deep divisions

The Mubarak legacy touches every part of Egypt.

The way the country deals with it will shape the new system as it emerges.

But as the violence outside the trial showed, Egyptians are uncertain and deeply divided about the way this country should go.

Judge Rifaat complained about the noise being made by more than 100 lawyers, telling them to sit down and to show some respect.

To try to streamline the legal process, he merged the Mubarak trial with that of the former Interior Minister, Habib al-Adly, and six of his former aides.

Like the ex-president, they deny ordering the killing of protesters.

The judge says witnesses will start to testify when the trial resumes next month.

The defence says it will call 1,600 of them.

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