By YAROSLAV TROFIMOV | Wall Street Journal
CAIRO—Egypt's deposed President Hosni Mubarak was wheeled into a courtroom on a gurney on Wednesday to face charges of killing revolutionary protesters, in a landmark prosecution that carries political risks for the nation's current military rulers.
The first Arab leader overthrown by his own people to go on trial, Mr. Mubarak, 83 years old, listened impassively as the chief prosecutor accused him of "intending to kill as many innocent people as possible" during the uprising. Briefly taking the microphone, Mr. Mubarak proclaimed in a steady voice: "I have not committed any such crimes."
The trial took an unexpected turn before Wednesday's session adjourned until Aug. 15, as defense attorney Farid al Deeb moved to call the country's current ruler, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, among some 1,600 witnesses.
Marshal Tantawi, who served as defense minister under Mr. Mubarak, should be heard because he effectively "took charge" of the country since the evening of Jan. 28, when army troops were deployed in the streets of Cairo, Mr. Deeb argued. Mr. Mubarak was officially ousted only on Feb. 11, after two more weeks of deadly street clashes. The military largely stood on the sidelines at that time, and didn't fire on protesters.
Egypt's military rulers initially were reluctant to try Mr. Mubarak, a former war hero who commanded the country's air force during the 1973 war with Israel, but buckled under pressure from street demonstrations. The army's top brass was handpicked by Mr. Mubarak, and the defense team's strategy to draw attention to the military's role during the revolution could prove embarrassing for Marshal Tantawi and other senior generals just as they oversee the country's transition to democracy.
"The situation in Egypt is quite fluid and is at a dangerous point. This trial could pull Egypt in surprising directions," said Paul Sullivan, a professor at National Defense University who taught several senior Egyptian officers. The defense team's accusation "could quickly become a viral rumor with all sorts of addenda to it. It also puts Tantawi in a position where he needs to respond to the accusations in some way."
Mr. Mubarak, who ruled Egypt for 30 years, was ferried by military aircraft from his hospital bed in the Red Sea resort town of Sharm el Sheikh earlier Wednesday. A white ambulance helicopter deposited him at the trial's venue, the Police Academy in Cairo's outskirts. There, dressed in white prisoner overalls, he was wheeled into a specially constructed metal cage for defendants. He remained on the gurney through the session, sometimes rubbing his chin and occasionally trying to look up. The presiding judge ordered him kept in a hospital just outside Cairo during the trial.
In addition to murder, Mr. Mubarak is accused of corruption and abuse of office, allegedly harming Egypt's national interests by selling natural gas to Israel. His sons Wednesday also pleaded not guilty. Mr. Mubarak's lawyers demanded a delay in the proceedings so they could examine the evidence, and a separation of his trial from that of the former interior minister, Habib el Adly.
Standing in the cage alongside Mr. Mubarak were his sons Alaa, a businessman, and Gamal, who had been groomed to succeed Mr. Mubarak as president. Also on trial Wednesday was the former minister of interior and several former law-enforcement officials. Egyptian television broadcast the proceedings live. If convicted, Mr. Mubarak could be sentenced to death, judicial officials said.
The prosecution of Mr. Mubarak, who has suffered from cancer and heart disease and, according to his doctors, is unable to stand or walk, is likely to scare fellow Arab leaders. For the most embattled of them—such as Syria's Bashar al-Assad or Libya's Col. Moammar Gadhafi—it may also give more reason to continue fighting to stay in power, no matter the cost, analysts say.
- Complicity in the murder of more than 800 protesters in the January-February revolution.
- Corruption in real-estate deals in the Sinai Peninsula.
- Corruption and abuse of office in a deal to sell Egyptian natural gas to Israel.
While Iraq's former President Saddam Hussein was also put on trial and eventually executed in Iraq, he was overthrown by the U.S.-led invasion and not by his own people. Tunisia's ousted leader Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, convicted on weapons and drugs charges in a one-day trial last month, has refused to attend the continuing proceedings and remains in exile in Saudi Arabia.
Outside the Police Academy, sporadic clashes broke out Wednesday between stone-throwing supporters of Mr. Mubarak and anti-Mubarak demonstrators. Groups of Mr. Mubarak's supporters, some of them carrying his portraits, said they were angered by the humiliation of the former president, who still enjoys a degree of sympathy among parts of the population.