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Mubarak's Trial Loses Luster For Egyptians

SCOTT SIMON, host: The trial of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak continues in Egypt. He is accused, of course, of ordering attacks on protesters during the popular uprisings that ousted him from power in February. Eight hundred people were killed in the attacks. Egyptians and many other Arabs were riveted by the trial when it began in August. But over the past few months it's lost much of its luster and appeal. Merritt Kennedy reports from Cairo.


MERRIT KENNEDY: When the television screens unveiled the image of the 83-year-old Mubarak behind bars in a courtroom, rolled in on a stretcher, it was deeply symbolic to many here. They saw it as a sign he would finally be brought to justice. But the public is becoming more skeptical of the trial after a string of controversies, including the judge's decision to halt live telecasts of the proceedings.

AHMED HASSAN: We think the trial is some kind of fake, it's some kind of a movie.

KENNEDY: That was Ahmed Hassan, a mechanical engineer at a recent protest. Most lawyers involved in the case and a number of legal analysts aren't ready to write off the trial quite yet. But there are worries that the charges against Mubarak will be difficult to prove. Adel Ramadan is a legal officer at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, an independent human rights group.

ADEL RAMADAN: (Through Translator) To prove that people were murdered is easy. Protesters were killed. However, connecting the murders to Mubarak is the secret that no one knows except his inner circle. They are the ones that have the secrets.

KENNEDY: Some of those powerful people have testified at the trial, including Field Marshall Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the head of the military council now ruling Egypt. He served as Mubarak's defense minister for 20 years, and as a key insider his testimony was considered crucial in making the case against Mubarak. Journalists were banned from his appearance in court and lawyers could face charges for leaking what he said. Tantawi himself later said publicly the army was never given orders to shoot protesters. What Tantawi may have said about the role of the police is not known. Ashraf Aglan is a lawyer representing some of those killed in the uprising. He says an important bit of evidence was a CD of police communications during the protests.

ASHRAF AGLAN: And this CD contains all of the communications between all those heads talking about which procedures has to be taken, which weapons has to be used and so on. So all those communications, it seems like even then we had only one CD and there's no other possibility to make another copy of it, so this CD has been spoiled.

KENNEDY: A police general who was also a witness in the trial was found guilty of destroying that crucial piece of evidence. Other senior police officers denied that Mubarak gave orders to shoot protesters.

Heba Morayef is the Egypt researcher for Human Rights Watch. She says many prosecution witnesses have actually ended up helping the defense's case.

HEBA MORAYEF: We're at a point where a lot of the witnesses brought forward by the prosecution have given testimony that hasn't been very strong, that's sometimes contradictory, that's departed sometimes from some of the things that they said in their testimonies in front of the prosecution. And in general, in terms of some of the quality of the evidence presented so far by the prosecution, it hasn't been very compelling overall.

KENNEDY: It's been difficult for the prosecutor to gather evidence against Mubarak. Hoda Nasrallah is another lawyer representing some of those killed during the uprising. She says in some cases more than a month passed before teams from the prosecutor's office went to gather evidence at key places where people were killed.

HODA NASRALLAH: (Through Translator) The time lost caused the loss of a lot of evidence and gave some people the chance to try to get rid of it.

KENNEDY: Some observers, like legal officer Adel Ramadan, are skeptical about the credibility of the public prosecutor.

RAMADAN: (Through Translator) The public prosecutors were appointed by Mubarak and were under his orders. The prosecution's integrity and honesty is in question.

KENNEDY: But even if the prosecutor is working in good faith, Heba Morayef says this kind of investigation can take a year to mount, but here, they were only given a few months because of public and political pressure.

MORAYEF: I don't think it's a very well constructed case, and I – I personally think it's incompetence and time pressure, because everyone is really stuck right now.

KENNEDY: Egyptians say that it's crucial this trial be viewed as transparent and fair. It's not only Mubarak on trial they say, but the future of their revolution. For NPR News, I'm Merrit Kennedy in Cairo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.