CAIRO – During a day of fistfights and raucous courtroom antics, a former senior state security official surprised the prosecution in the trial of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Monday, testifying that he knew of no orders to shoot protesters during the revolution that overthrew the Egyptian president last winter.
The comments by Gen. Hussein Said Moussa appeared to contradict his earlier statements about whether Mubarak and then-Interior Minister Habib el-Adly sanctioned using live ammunition in the crackdown that left more than 800 people dead between Jan. 25 and Feb. 11. The frail, deposed president is on trial for complicity to commit murder.
Anger concerning the case erupted outside the courthouse as dozens were injured in clashes between Mubarak loyalists and families of those killed. Pro- and anti-Mubarak lawyers punched one another inside the courtroom, even as the disgraced 83-year-old autocrat arrived on a stretcher to watch from the defendant’s cage as the case against him unfolded.
The violence, which prompted Judge Ahmed Refaat to leave the bench for 45 minutes, symbolized the deep passions Mubarak still evokes in a nation struggling, often clumsily, to move beyond his brutal rule.
The case’s regional overtones arose when lawyers from Kuwait arrived to help represent Mubarak in appreciation for his role in the U.S.-led war to push Iraqi soldiers out of Kuwait in 1991. They were not allowed inside the courtroom.
The prosecution attempted to shed light on the inner workings of Mubarak’s police state. Questions were raised about how a leader who had concentrated his power over decades could not have known demonstrators were being shot. Testimony also showed that Mubarak’s security forces were so overwhelmed that they hid ammunition in ambulances to sneak it past protesters.
Prosecutors called Moussa, who was in charge of the security forces’ communications command center and was recently sentenced to two years in prison for destroying evidence, to the stand to buttress their charges. But he testified that police were ordered to only fire tear gas and rubber bullets. He said live ammunition was later used to protect police stations and the Interior Ministry.
Moussa testified that on Jan. 28, hours before the army imposed martial law over the country, demonstrators were “on the rise” and Gen. Ahmed Ramzy, head of Central Command, “gave his orders to prevent protesters from reaching Tahrir Square. The direct order was for each general to deal with protesters according to his own vision of the situation.”
When asked by the judge if el-Adly gave the order to fire live ammunition, he said, “No, I don’t know.”
One prosecutor told the judge that “a number of Moussa’s answers contradict with answers he gave during interrogations.”
The fate of Mubarak – he faces the death penalty if convicted – has enthralled an Arab world experiencing upheavals and rebellions. Mubarak’s sons Alaa and Gamal, both charged with financial corruption, stood over their father Monday in a cage shared with el-Adly and six former senior Interior Ministry officials.
The hearing was a resumption of the trial after an Aug. 15 adjournment. Moussa’s testimony stretched into the evening and was punctuated by recesses and scuffles that included one lawyer smacking another with a shoe.