Toppled Mubarak still a thorn in Egypt's side

CAIRO, July 25, 2011 (AFP) - Six months after the uprising that toppled Egypt's president Hosni Mubarak, the former strongman who is in custody in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh remains a thorn in the country's side.

The trial of Mubarak and his two sons, which is scheduled for August 3, remains a huge source of tension and the state of his health is shrouded by confusion and contradictory statements.

Mubarak's assets may have been frozen but his fortune remains unknown, despite mounting calls for disclosure.

Despite his spectacular ouster in February by a popular uprising, Mubarak is still very much a sore topic in Egypt, where the ruling military is overseeing a fragile transition.

The former president is currently in custody in a hospital in Sharm el-Sheikh, where he is undergoing treatment for a heart condition.

Mubarak moved to Sharm el-Sheikh, where he has a private residence, during the uprising but has not made any public appearances there.

In a brief audio message on April 10, he said he was the victim of a smear campaign.

Later that night, he was summoned for questioning during which he suffered a heart attack.

Mubarak is accused of corruption and of ordering the killing of protesters during the January-February uprising. If found guilty on murder charges, he could face the death penalty, the justice minister has said.

Like all Egyptian presidents before him, Mubarak is a military man, which puts the ruling Supreme Council Armed Forces (SCAF) in an awkward position because he is one of their own.

The SCAF head and the country's de facto ruler, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, was Mubarak's defence minister for two decades.

"His case embarrasses the military establishment in general and Field Marshal Tantawi in particular," said Mustafa Kamel al-Sayyed, a professor of political science at Cairo University.

Putting the man who ran the country for more than 30 years on trial could prove difficult, simply because he knows too much.

"Many fear he could make embarrassing revelations," said Sayyed.

Many also fear a cosmetic trial, with a public opening session followed by a series of postponements on the pretext of the need for further investigations, judicial recess, Mubarak's deteriorating health or the holy month of Ramadan.

"It's possible that the trial will be delayed, with the opening date carefully chosen," said Sayyed.

"The army does not want to see a military man sentenced," said Emad Gad, an analyst with the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.

"They are trying to buy time in the hope that he dies beforehand," he said bluntly.

Mubarak will probably be tried in Sharm el-Sheikh, perhaps even in his hospital room, for health and security reasons, judicial sources have said.

"I want to see Mubarak on trial. I want open proceedings to be held in the capital," said Bola Abdu, 23, a pro-democracy activist camped out in Cairo's Tahrir Square, the epicentre of protests that toppled the strongman.

The former president's health is the subject of conflicting reports.

Farid al-Deeb, Mubarak's lawyer, said in June that Mubarak had stomach cancer and a month later that he had entered a "complete coma" following a deterioration of his health.

But health officials denied the reports and said there was no "scientific proof" the former president had cancer.

Since Mubarak's downfall, protesters have continued to take to the street to demand his public and speedy trial.

The independent daily al-Shorouk has reported that the former president could be given a military funeral if he dies before being sentenced.

Other news