Sydney Morning Herald
June 11 2011
SIX months ago, Cairo mechanic Magdy al-Kordy was busy leading a grassroots campaign to draft Gamal Mubarak to succeed his father Hosni as Egypt’s next president.
”Hundreds of thousands of signatures I had,” a rueful Mr Kordy said in a Cairo coffee shop this week. ”I really believed in him as a man of the people, despite his billions.”
At its peak, Mr Kordy said his ”Gamal for president” coalition had around 60,000 volunteers working in 25 municipal districts. ”I still believe he would have made a great leader for Egypt.”
How the mighty have fallen.
Four months after the popular uprising that tossed Hosni Mubarak from office after 30 years in power, the Mubarak clan is on the slide.
Since he decamped to the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh in early February, former president Mubarak has spent most of his time convalescing under lock and key in a military hospital.
Said to be in a state of near catatonic depression, Mubarak, 83, has reportedly been unable to process the shock of having lost his seemingly unassailable grip on the most powerful country in the Arab world.
If only that were his biggest problem.
Last month, Egypt’s chief prosecutor announced that Mubarak would be put on trial later this year for conspiring to shoot at unarmed protesters during the uprising ”with premeditation” to kill, and also with inciting some officers and members of the police ”to fire their weapons … shoot them and run over them with vehicles, and to kill some of them in order to terrorise the rest”.
This is in addition to a host of other corruption charges designed to uncover just how much of Egypt’s wealth Mubarak managed to siphon off into family bank accounts in Europe and North Africa.
When his health improves, prosecutors plan to transfer Mubarak to Cairo’s notorious Tora prison complex, where his sons Gamal and Alaa are already sharing a cell awaiting trial on corruption charges.
A prison official took The Saturday Age for a brief look inside the complex this week, providing a bleak picture of the daily routine of the Mubarak brothers.
”They’re in the part of the prison we call the farm,” said Mustafa (not his real name). ”They are in the cell for 22 hours a day, and they have two hours’ recreation outside, where they can make a garden.”
Because they are yet to face trial, the Mubaraks are required to ”wear the white”, Mustafa said. ”White because they are still innocent until proven guilty.”
Last week Gamal and Alaa’s wives tried to send a package containing their husbands’ favourite cotton underwear.
”The underwear was in pretty colours, so they were not allowed to receive it,” Mustafa said. ”They are only allowed to wear the white.”
As temperatures in Cairo soared to 38 degrees this week – it is not even officially summer yet – Mustafa said the Mubarak brothers had to sweat out the heat in a cell without airconditioning.
Should they be found guilty, Mustafa said the Mubaraks could look forward to a change of clothes – from white to denim – but little else.
”Hard labour,” he said, pointing to a blue prison transport vehicle leaving the prison compound for a nearby quarry, where inmates are expected to break rocks.
”If they are sentenced to hard labour, this is one of the punishments, otherwise they have a range of other employment opportunities, such as making shoes and other textiles.”
With more than a handful of Mubarak’s former cabinet ministers already in prison awaiting trial, including the despised former interior minister Habib al-Adly – who is widely believed to have orchestrated the shootings that killed most of the 850 people who died during the three-week uprising – Egyptians have become transfixed by the daily revelations detailing the extent of the corruption under the former regime.
Newspapers that once wouldn’t have dreamed of publishing anything but the most sycophantic references to Mubarak and his sons are now devoting 10 or more pages a day to the scandal.
In Thursday’s edition of al-Dustour, the front page was drawn in the manner of an old-style ”wanted” poster, with pictures of three former agriculture ministers believed responsible for knowingly allowing poisoned food products onto the market.
Another newspaper, al-Fagr, featured a story on its front page revealing that Gamal Mubarak was the owner of a 180,000-tonne supertanker registered in Switzerland, but bearing a Liberian flag, named after his mother Suzanne.
”While we recognise the importance of prosecuting people who may have been involved in committing very serious crimes, it is also vitally important that the rule of law is observed, that people have access to proper legal procedure,” Kenneth Roth, executive director of the international advocacy group Human Rights Watch, told The Saturday Age during a visit to Cairo this week.
”A persistent concern for us is the continued use of military courts to try people who should be tried in civilian courts, and the same goes for the former president.”
Fresh from meeting two generals from the supreme military council supposedly managing Egypt’s transition to democracy, Mr Roth said he had received assurances that Mubarak and his sons would face a civilian court.
”Without doubt, the way these are to be conducted will be of vital importance in assessing Egypt’s transition to democracy,” he added, a transition that is proving frustratingly slow at times.
”It is true to say that while there has been progress in some areas as Egypt moves towards elections in September, it’s also the case that the instincts of the military rulers are fundamentally anti-democratic. These are people who are ordinarily used to having their orders followed.