A decision by the chief judge of a court tasked with the retrial of toppled Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak to recuse himself has plunged the case into a legal maze, legal experts have said.
Chief Judge Mustafa Abdullah announced at the opening of the retrial that he was withdrawing from the case for “feeling uneasiness” and asked the Appeals Court to pick a replacement to hear the case.
“The judge’s decision came as no surprise,” said Hamada Yousuf, a lawyer. “He was the judge who acquitted all defendants in the Camel Battle case.”
The Camel Battle case Yousuf was referring to ended in a court ruling passed in October exonerating all 24 defendants, including several ex-officials, of masterminding a deadly assault on protesters who were camping in Tahrir Square during the uprising against Mubarak.
Judge Abdullah’s verdict in the case tagged the Camel Battle Case has earned him nothing but disdain before many Egyptians, so much so, he had hardly taken his seat inside the courtroom on Saturday when lawyers for families of protesters killed in the anti-Mubarak revolt called for him to resign from the case. He gave them what they wanted and got them cheering inside and outside the courtroom.
“I think the judge’s decision was pre-planned and wise,” said Yousuf. “Had he chosen to continue in tackling this case, whatever verdict he would issue would not please anyone.” Besides choosing a new judge, the Appeals Court will have now to set a new date for the retrial, a process that can take at least two weeks.
“Mubarak’s lawyers are likely to request his release after he spent in prison the maximum detention period dictated by law,” said Yousuf. “However, the prosecution has the authority to extend his detention pending further investigations.”
Last week, prosecutor-general Talaat Abdullah ordered Mubarak be detained for 15 days pending questioning over alleged public waste of money. Mubarak is now staying at a military hospital in the Cairo area of Maadi.
Saturday’s short trial session was Mubarak’s first public appearance since June 2, 2012, when a court handed him life sentence in prison for failing to prevent killing hundreds of protesters during the revolt that eventually forced him to step down in February 2011.
In January however, the Court of Cassation, Egypt’s highest appeals court, annulled the ruling and ordered a retrial.
Mubarak, who turns 85 in May, looked in good health and high morale.
Wearing sunglasses and sitting on a stretcher, Mubarak grinned and repeatedly waved from behind the bars. He was also seen chatting with his two sons Ala’a and Jamal, who are facing corruption charges. Dozens of Mubarak loyalists gathered outside the court building near Cairo.
“There is a big difference between the appearance of Mubarak in his trial when it first started in August 2011 and his appearance today [Saturday],” said Abdullah Al Senawi, a political analyst.
“In the first trial, Mubarak looked dejected for having been deposed after a popular revolt,” he added.
“But this time, he looked happy and confident because the current regime has committed crimes deemed worse than those of Mubarak.”
The opposition accuses President Mohammad Mursi, who took office in June, of condoning police crackdown on protesters, failing to fix the dilapidated economy, gagging the media and acting at his Muslim Brotherhood’s command.
In recent months, clashes have occasionally erupted between Mursi’s supporters and opponents, leaving dozens dead and injured.