Conflict & Justice

Defending Egypt's Hosni Mubarak


Attorney Negad el-Borai turned down Hosni Mubarak's offer to represent the former dictator in court. (photo: Matthew Bell)

The man who ruled Egypt with an iron fist for three decades — thanks in part to US support — is set to go on trial starting tomorrow.

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Hosni Mubarak is charged with corruption and ordering the killing of demonstrators during the 18 day uprising that toppled his regime. The prosecution wants the death penalty.

The trial will take place on the outskirts of Cairo, at a police academy that was formerly named after Mubarak himself. The man who will defend the former dictator is no stranger to controversy or public pressure.

In fact, Fareed el-Deeb was a household name in Egypt long before he agreed to defend ex-president Mubarak. El-Deeb is a celebrity lawyer and he looks the part. He's known for his trademark cigar, his silver tongue and his sense of humor. And Egyptians are well aware of El-Deeb's professional reputation.

"You know, if I was to describe him in just one phrase: he's the lawyer who is willing to go to the court to defend the devil," said Mustafa Kamal el-Sayyid. He's a political scientist at Cairo University.

Sayyid said el-Deeb's previous clients include an alleged Israeli spy and the suspected murderer of a Lebanese pop star.

"Fareed el-Deeb is the kind of lawyer that would be willing to accept any case, even though the morality of the defense seems questionable, by the public opinion," he said.

Public opinion in post-revolutionary Egypt is complicated and fluid. But when it comes to the former dictator, there's a thirst for revenge on the part of some Egyptians who suffered dearly under Mubarak and his allies.

Ulfat Mohamed camped out in Tahrir Square to demand justice for her son, Islam. She said the second year law student was shot in the neck during anti-government demonstrations on January 28th. And he died three days later.

Mohamed said she wants revenge.

"Mubarak is a liar," she said. "He's in the hospital now, but he's not sick. And his lawyer, Fareed El-Deeb, he's a liar too. If this trial doesn't go forward, people will be furious and there will be chaos."

Bahaa'adeen Abu Shoqqa said he feels the pain of those who lost loved ones during the revolution. And it's one reason why he turned down the offer from Hosni Mubarak and his family to represent them in court.

Abu Shoqqa said he refused the job because of politics. In addition to being a lawyer, he's also an opposition party leader. Abu Shoqqa said Fareed El-Deeb has a very difficult job ahead of him.

"El-Deeb is a friend and a colleague," Abu Shoqqa said. "But I want to remind people that he is also a lawyer who is doing his job. It's not up to the defense attorney to decide the case. That's the judge's job."

However they feel about Hosni Mubarak, most Egyptians understand that the ex-president deserves a fair trial and a good lawyer, said Mustafa Kamal Al-Sayyid of Cairo University. And well before the trial started, he points out, El-Deeb was at work defending his client.

"He was quite daring to say in defense of President Hosni Mubarak that he supported the revolution from the first day. I guess that one needs fertile imagination to come up with an argument like this," Sayyid chuckled.

In interviews, El-Deeb has said that Mubarak told state-run media outlets during the early days of the revolution to put anti-government demonstrators on the air. Two weeks ago, a leaked transcript of an interrogation session with Mubarak appeared. According to the document, the ex-president said he never ordered police to fire on demonstrators.

Mubarak also told interrogators he's not guilty of corruption. El-Deeb has continuously raised Mubarak's health. He's said the 83 year-old is weak from not eating and incapable of appearing in a Cairo courtroom. And besides, Mubarak lawyer has even suggested, the man is innocent.

In a TV appearance last month, Fareed El-Deeb said Hosni Mubarak told him that what's at stake in this case are matters of Egypt's national security. And even though revealing certain state secrets would show that he's innocent, Mubarak's lawyer said the former president would rather keep quiet.