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An Egyptian appeals court today overturned life sentences handed down against ousted President Hosni Mubarak and his security chief, ordering them retried in connection with the deaths of 850 protesters in 2011.
Judge Ahmed Abdel-Rahman also ordered six security officials retried on the same grounds after they had been acquitted by the court that sentenced Mubarak and former Interior Minister Habib El-Adly in June. The decision comes two weeks before the second anniversary of the start of the 2011 revolution.
The verdict will put pressure on President Mohamed Mursi to show he’s following through on promises to hold the former regime accountable, said Mohamed Adel, co-founder of the April 6 group, which helped to spearhead the protests that marked the revolt. Egypt has been struggling to revive its economy and secure a measure of political stability amid tensions between secularists and Mursi’s Islamist government.
“The ruling will spark popular anger and help mobilize people for mass protests” on the anniversary of the uprising, Adel said today by phone. “When Mursi promised retrials of former regime figures, we thought he meant putting more figures on trial and achieving justice.”
Supporters of Mubarak broke out into loud cheers after the verdict was read, chanting “down with the Murshid’s rule,” in reference to the Muslim Brotherhood’s supreme guide. Some of Mubarak’s backers headed to the military hospital where he is currently being held to offer their congratulations, Ahram Gate news website reported.
Mursi, who was elected at the end of June, was fielded for the presidency by the Brotherhood and narrowly defeated Mubarak’s last premier, Ahmed Shafik, in a runoff race. In the past few weeks, several of Mubarak’s top advisers and ministers have been acquitted or ordered retried over various cases.
His two sons, Alaa and Gamal, were also ordered retried on corruption charges after being acquitted earlier. Because he filed the appeal, Mubarak cannot receive a harsher sentence than life if he is convicted in the new trial, human rights attorney Negad El-Boraie said.
Mursi has come under mounting criticism by an opposition of secularists, minority Christians and youth activists who claim he is more intent on advancing the Brotherhood’s goals and securing its power than addressing Egypt’s challenges. They’ve vowed to hold protests on the second anniversary of the uprising to overturn a constitution approved last month in a referendum.
No date has yet been set for the new hearing.
The ruling today was handed down several weeks after a committee investigating the deaths issued a report maintaining Mubarak watched the protests via a closed circuit television feed, disputing arguments by his attorneys he did not know of the killings.
Egypt’s foreign reserves have plunged to almost 60 percent below their pre-uprising levels and the central bank has turned to auctioning dollars in a move that has pushed the Egyptian pound to record lows against the U.S. dollar. Officials have resumed a bid to secure a $4.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund, and are meeting immediate obligations with donations and deposits by Qatar and Turkey.
The court also ordered Mubarak, his sons and a businessman retried in connection with a case dealing with the export of natural gas to Israel. All three had been acquitted in the case and the prosecution had appealed the verdict.
A Muslim Brotherhood spokesman said the group would wait and see the results of the trial before making specific comments on the case.
“What really matters is whether the result satisfies the demands of the revolution and ensures justice is met,” Ahmed Aref, a spokesman for the organization, said by phone.
During the new trial, the defense will be allowed to present new evidence in support of Mubarak while the prosecution must rely on evidence already submitted, Faisal el-Antieby, head of one of Mubarak’s defense teams, said by phone.
Analysts and activists such as Heba Morayef, the Egypt director of the New York-based Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa division, said the verdict was not surprising given the speed of the last trial and complaints the judges were not weighing all the evidence.
“There were procedural violations in the first trial,” Morayef said by phone. The judge’s decision to move to pleadings “without hearing all the defense’s requests was enough of a procedural violation to many legal analysts” to ensure a retrial.
The new trial may come at a delicate time for the president, with preparations for parliamentary elections likely to be announced next month. The Brotherhood’s political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, is seeking to repeat their dominance in the earlier elections after Mubarak’s ouster.
Mursi has tried to reassure Egyptians repeatedly that he was a president for “all” and has appointed a new prosecutor general in place of the one under Mubarak. Also, under the new constitution that was passed last month almost half the justices on the country’s Supreme Constitutional Court were sidelined. The judges had been Mubarak appointees as well.
“There’s a political will to achieve justice, and Mursi has succeeded in building the right environment for the judiciary to ensure justice is fully served,” said Aref. “We don’t want a president who directly interferes in the judiciary. All he can do is build a healthy and stable environment that allows judges to do their duty.”
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