Hosni Mubarak pleads not guilty

Egyptians are shocked at the sight of their former president, Hosni Mubarak, pleading not guilty in Cairo to the charges against him while lying in a hospital bed inside a cage of mesh and iron bars in a makeshift courtroom.

Supporters, opponents of ex-Egyptian leader clash outside historic Cairo corruption trial

Hosni Mubarak, in an image taken from Egyptian State Television, is on a hospital bed inside a cage of mesh and iron bars in a Cairo courtroom on Wednesday for the start of his trial on charges of corruption and ordering the killing of protesters during the uprising that ousted him. (Egyptian State TV/Associated Press)

Egyptians were shocked Wednesday at the sight of their former president, Hosni Mubarak, pleading not guilty in Cairo to the charges against him while lying in a hospital bed inside a cage of mesh and iron bars in a makeshift courtroom.

"Yes, I am here," Mubarak said into a microphone from his bed, raising his hand slightly and wagging his finger when the judge asked him to identify himself and enter a plea. "I deny all these accusations completely."

Those were Mubarak's only words on the first day of the historic trial. He is accused of corruption and complicity in the death of protesters during the uprising that ousted him.

Most of Wednesday's court session was taken up by procedural moves, and the judge later adjourned the trial until Aug.15. Mubarak was ordered held at a military hospital near Cairo, where an oncologist will be among the doctors monitoring him.

Some of those watching the proceedings on a giant screen outside the court were disappointed with the length of the wait until Mubarak's next appearance.

On Thursday, the court will continue hearing the case of Mubarak's co-defendants, former interior minister Habib el-Adly and six top security officials.

Mubarak hadn't been seen in public since he was forced to flee nearly six months ago and Egyptians weren't sure he would show up for his court appearance, according to Nahlah Ayed, who is covering the trial.

That he appeared on a gurney was an even bigger surprise to Egyptians, she said, "quite diminished from the usual pictures they're used to of Mubarak, usually shaking the hands of some of the most powerful leaders of the world, and a very well-spoken leader, one that has a lot of confidence."

Mubarak's appearance shocking to Egyptians

State television showed Mubarak inside the courtroom cage, looking pale as he lifted his head from his pillow to watch the proceedings. Mubarak's two sons, Gamal and Alaa — they are among those on trial with him — stood next to his bed and could be seen leaning over to talk with him.

"You can imagine a lot of shock," Ayed said from the scene of clashes between protesters earlier in the day.

Angie Balata, an Egyptian Canadian living in Cairo who participated in the protests during the uprising and is following the trial on TV, told CBC News it is shocking to see Mubarak and el-Adly, in particular, looking so vulnerable in the courtroom.

"These were the two most feared men in all of Egypt, so to see it happening right now on TV in history is shocking," she said.

"A lot of us had definitely hoped that this day would happen, but for him [Mubarak] to actually be in the state he is in right now and to be in this cage in front of everyone, I think, a lot of us are still trying to get over the shock of it.

"This is the first time in all of modern Arab history that the people themselves are trying their own leader … for everyone across the region, this is a turning moment. For it to happen and to happen this soon … is amazing, so we feel a great sense of accomplishment."

Local media are calling this the "trial of the century," and it is being broadcast live on state television. The level of security is unprecedented.

Violence outside the courtroom

Clashes between pro- and anti-Mubarak protesters outside the courtroom began well before the 83-year-old former leader left his hospital in Sharm el-Sheikh, where he has been under arrest since April while battling heart and other health problems. He was taken by military helicopter to Cairo and then the trial venue.

The courtroom is set up in a lecture hall at what was once called the Mubarak Police Academy.

For hours before his court appearance, hundreds of Mubarak's supporters and opponents were throwing stones, bottles and other objects at each other, as hundreds of police officers tried to separate them and control the violence.

Early in the morning, Mubarak supporters could be heard chanting slogans and holding portraits of the former leader.

Unidentified protesters clash outside the Cairo court where ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak made an appearance Wednesday. (Ahmed Ali/Associated Press)

"We will demolish and burn the prison if they convict Mubarak," they screamed at hundreds of police and army troops backed by armoured personnel carriers.

The last time Mubarak addressed the public was in early February, a day before he was ousted after nearly three decades in power.

About 600 people attended Mubarak's first court appearance, including relatives of some of the 850 protesters killed during the uprising earlier this year.

Mubarak and his co-defendants sat in a mesh cage on the left side of the chamber, while the relatives sat in rows of seats near the cage. A fence running through the middle of the chamber separates Mubarak and the other defendants from the families of the protesters.

Prosecution of Mubarak unprecedented

Some Egyptians worry that the country's new military rulers are touting the trial as proof that democratic reform has been accomplished, even as activists argue that far deeper change is still needed.

"I am a little worried that if Mubarak is tried and convicted, people will take that to be the end of the revolution. They will say that the revolution has realized its goals. This should not be the case," said Tareq Shalaby, a 27-year-old social media consultant who was among the hundreds of thousands of protesters who thronged Cairo's Tahrir Square and other cities during the uprising.

For the ex-president's opponents, Mubarak's arrival at the courthouse was an unbelievable moment.

"I have many feelings. I am happy, satisfied. I feel this a real success for the revolution, and I feel that the moment of real retribution is near," said Mostafa el-Naggar, one of the leading youth activists who organized the anti-Mubarak uprising and a member of one of Egypt's newest parties, Justice.

"This is a moment no Egyptian ever thought was possible," he said.

The prosecution of the former president is unprecedented in the Arab world, the first time a modern Mideast leader has been put on trial fully by his own people.

The closest event to it was former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's trial, but his capture came at the hands of U.S. troops in 2003 and his special tribunal was set up with extensive consultation with American officials and international experts.

Tunisia's deposed president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, has been tried and convicted several times since he fell several weeks before Mubarak, but always in absentia. He remains in exile in Saudi Arabia.

Mubarak, el-Adly and others are charged with murder and attempted murder in connection with the protesters who were killed. All could face the death penalty if convicted.

Separately, Mubarak and his two sons — one-time heir apparent Gamal and wealthy businessman Alaa — face charges of corruption.

With files from The Associated Press