A large screen set up outside the court premises streamed images of historic trial from within, while a banner under it proclaimed ‘O Judge of Judges, you have nothing to fear but God!’
Inside the building which once bore his name, former Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak pleaded not guilty to charges ranging from graft to “intentional killing of demonstrators” during the January 25 uprising that toppled his regime.
Lying on a stretcher, inside a specially built cage within the same building where, less than two days before the revolution started he had addressed his security forces whose support he enjoyed during nearly three decades of absolute power – he pleaded not guilty on all charges.
Recordings of his not-guilty plea in Arabic – “I categorically deny all charges” – have reportedly become popular ring tones, and images of the once powerful dictator inside a metal cage are being circulated widely on Internet groups.
Mubarak’s trial marks the first time in recent memory that the leader of an Arab nation – long accustomed to ruling until they die or are assassinated – has been made answerable to his own people for alleged abuse of power.
Over 850 people died in the 18 days of uprising early this year, before he stepped down.
In fact, the presiding Judge asked a lawyer at one point “Could you write down the (victims) names, or will it take hours?”
Even as Mubarak fights charges that carries a possible death sentence if convicted, many would agree that even in the scenario of his being acquitted, the dictator’s fall from grace is complete, and that this trial ultimately only provides catharsis and a warning to his embattled peers elsewhere in the middle east.
Images of his trial may aggravate the situation in Saleh’s Yemen, Gaddafi’s Libya, and Assad’s Syria, where authoritarian despots are clinging to power hoping to last through the unabated turbulence of the Arab spring.
It is quite possible that these dictators would blame Mubarak’s current predicament on his softness, and relatively quick exit from power – a mere 18 days after crowds assembled in Tahrir Square. With the stakes now even higher, these regimes might resort to a violent fight to the finish, unless they can be coerced into catching a flight to Jeddah.
At least 1700 civilians are believed to have been killed in Syria since uprisings began, and estimates range between 2000 to 12000 killed in Libya, with no signs of the an end to the rebellion.
While the Mubarak trial holds special symbolic meaning for the Arab people, it also holds some significance in the Maldivian context.
It was, after all, from the halls of Egypt’s Al Azhar University that former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom emerged.
When democracy arrived in the Maldives after a prolonged period of public protests, many expected Gayoom to be prosecuted – and his political cronies to be put on trial.
Throughout the democratic uprising, after all, opposition leaders had publicly accused President Gayoom of a wide spectrum of allegations ranging from corruption to torture.
However, Gayoom continues to be a free man, and no charges have yet been brought against him by the first democratically elected government.
It might be that despite the alleged excesses of his former government, Gayoom continues to hold a massive sway over a significant portion of the population, as evidenced by the 40 percent of votes he garnered in the first round of the Presidential polls.
President Mohamed Nasheed has stuck to his stated stand of ‘humility in times of victory’, and while there still remain occasional calls for Gayoom’s arrest from parliamentarians like “Reeko” Moosa, the public attention has long since shifted to more immediate matters of a weakening economy and dollar shortages.
Gayoom’s predecessor, President Ibrahim Nasir had also modeled himself after Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, a modernist with dictatorial tendencies.
After he became the First President of the Second Republic, Nasir was the hero of the Nation’s independence.
However, during his earlier stint as Prime Minister, Nasir’s heavy-handed tactics such as personally leading gunboats to forcefully depopulate Thinadhoo in 1962, in the aftermath of the southern rebellion, has been condemned by many as being especially ruthless.
Nasir never stood trial in a public court. Following Gayoom’s ascent to power, Nasir lived out the rest of his life in exile in Singapore.
Nasir died a few days after the Gayoom regime fell, and was buried with his royal ancestors at the cemetery attached to the hukuru miskiy. Tens of thousands paid him their last respects, and a national holiday was declared in his honour.
He has recently been honoured again by the MDP government, which renamed the Male’ International Airport as Ibrahim Nasir International Airport in recognition of his efforts towards building it.
The news of the airport renaming was met with some disappointment by many Huvadhu islanders, some of whom still remember Nasir as the man who tore their families apart. Sounds of gunfire are still fresh in their memories.
Humiliating scenes of men being forced to step off their islands, supervised by the political strongman himself, continue to persist on the Internet.
It is increasingly likely that the alleged crimes and corruption of Gayoom and Nasir will never face their Mubarak moment. Furthermore, the government has so far given no indication of making a even a symbolic public apology for the southern outrage that was Thinadhoo.
While Mubarak’s trial assuages some of Egypt’s hurt and brings hope to rebels in the Middle East, it reopens some old wounds for many Maldivians, who feel justice has been denied to them.
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