The prospect of convicting former President Hosni Mubarak in the deaths of hundreds of protesters during last winter's revolution has been complicated by the testimony of four high-ranking police officers that supports the toppled leader.
During the trial's third session, which lasted nearly 12 hours Monday, the police officers, including a general and two majors, gave their accounts of the police crackdowns on Jan. 25 and 28, events that are critical to the prosecution's accusations that Mubarak ordered his interior minister, Habib Adli, to shoot protesters.
Although they were called as prosecution witnesses Monday, all four officers -- appearing to recant earlier statements made to prosecutors -- denied that Adli or any of his aides gave direct orders to use live ammunition against protesters.
Tamer Gomaa, a lawyer representing the families of 11 people killed from Jan. 25 to Feb. 11, said he was not surprised.
"All witnesses are still part of the police force, and I wouldn’t have expected them to say anything that would convict their former superiors," he told Babylon & Beyond. "The Jan. 25 revolution was carried out against the former regime and its police forces. Most officers don’t believe that those who were killed during the revolt were martyrs or were even serving their country."
The Egyptian media portrayed the testimony as an embarrassment for the state.
"The prosecution witnesses turned into defense witnesses," the independent daily Al-Shorouk proclaimed in a front-page headline. The newspaper said the hearing was "a battering for the victims' families".
Gen. Hussein Moussa, who was head of communications at the Interior Ministry’s Central Security division, testified that automatic weapons were provided only to forces protecting the ministry’s headquarters from protesters. Maj. Emad Saied said orders from his superiors stressed "self-control when facing protesters" and treating demonstrators "like officers’ brothers or sons." Capt. Bassem Hassan said no orders were given to shoot protesters with live ammunition.
Another concern for families of those killed during the revolution, as well as activists wanting to see Mubarak and Adli convicted, is continuing disorganization and chaos among the more than 100 civil rights lawyers representing families of the more than 800 people killed during the revolution. Shouting and fistfights in court Monday prompted Judge Ahmed Refaat to abandon the chamber for 45 minutes.
"There are so many [civil rights] lawyers who want to take over the scene without allowing us to work on the case itself," Gomaa said. "In a hearing like today we should have organized ourselves to come up with a set of the best possible questions for the witnesses."
The trial is set to resume Wednesday.
-- Amro Hassan in Cairo
Photo: Hosni Mubarak lies on a bed behind bars during his trial's second session Aug.15. Credit: Associated Press