Relief, Anger In Egypt As Mubarak Trial Starts

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Many Egyptians doubted that ex-president Hosni Mubarak would ever appear in court to face the charges against him. But he was in a courtroom Wednesday, lying in a hospital bed that was wheeled into the prisoner's cage. The scene was witnessed by millions of Egyptians as the proceedings were aired live on state television. Mubarak spoke only to deny the charges against him, but for many in Egypt just seeing him in those circumstances was hard to believe.

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

What's known as the Arab Spring will soon extend into the fall. Any protest or a fallen government is the end of one story and the beginning of another. And we'll see evidence of that in the next few minutes as we check in on Syria, Yemen and Egypt.

INSKEEP: Former Egyptian Hosni Mubarak appeared in court yesterday lying on a hospital bed and placed inside a cage. Many Egyptians saw the spectacle on state television and afterwards some spoke with NPR's Mike Shuster.

MIKE SHUSTER: The streets and cafes and shops were mostly quiet when Hosni Mubarak appeared in court. The usually boisterous Egyptian capital was subdued because the month of Ramadan had just started, which means Muslims fast from sun-up to sundown. But the cafes did fill up when darkness fell. In the many cafes of the Bursa district of downtown Cairo near the stock exchange, the mood was relaxed and the talk was all about the astounding pictures they had seen on television.

Many people like actor Ahmed Salah first expressed surprise.

AHMED SALAH: Yeah, it's a surprise for me. Everybody, everybody in Egypt is happy. But till now, it's very, very surprising, a good surprise.

SHUSTER: And for some the simple fact that Mubarak is being put on trial is a relief. He is charged with authorizing the killing of hundreds of demonstrators and with numerous acts of corruption. The trial itself is concrete evidence that things really are changing in the post-Mubarak Egypt.

SALAH: I can speak anything now. Now I have freedom. I have - everything is good.

SHUSTER: For Nermin Abdul Malek, a tour guide, the trial is only a beginning, but a significant one, one that is likely to affect all Egyptians in one way or another.

NERMIN ABDUL MALEK: I think he will have a fair trial, it needs time. Any change needs time. It absorbs a bit of anger that was in the streets, but there is still more anger around.

SHUSTER: There is a great deal of anger in Cairo's streets. Even before the trial started yesterday morning, clashes erupted between protesters who were there to condemn Mubarak and small groups of his defenders. Rock throwing broke out sporadically during the day, even with the presence of hundreds of riot police.

Nermin Abdul Malek believes that Mubarak will get a fair trial and people will see that, but in the same breath she reveals what she thinks the ultimate outcome will be.

ABDUL MALEK: Whatever the result will be, whatever it's going to be like, I doubt they will clear his name. I doubt that. He denied all the accusations - normal scenario in any criminal case, you will hear the same thing, yeah. So it's not the verdict, it's not the verdict. We're still waiting for the verdict to be announced.

SHUSTER: Still, she says, people don't quite believe it yet, that Mubarak is facing charges that could bring the death penalty.

ABDUL MALEK: They need evidence to prove that everything goes in the right path. So yeah, I think it's a step, and it's a good step. It's a big step as well.

SHUSTER: But like many Egyptians, Abdul Malek understands there's much more to come. Ultimately the issue will boil down to the verdict and what sentence Mubarak will face. Cafe owner Ashraf Mahram says Mubarak ruled like a king, not a president.

ASHRAF MAHRAM: He was a dictator, he wasn't a president. He doesn't ask yourself one day what the people here they need or they want. He doesn't care about the people here.

SHUSTER: And so for Mahram, a fair trial could have only one outcome.

MAHRAM: The law says if you kill someone with no reason, you have to kill. But here nothing is sure.

SHUSTER: In the minds of many, if it is a fair trial, it will end up condemning Mubarak to death.

ABDUL MALEK: If it's fair, if it's fair, the president and his sons and the ministers, they must kill. If it's fair.

SHUSTER: Hosni Mubarak's trial resumes on August 15th.

Mike Shuster, NPR News, Cairo.

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