CAIRO -- Toppled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was sentenced to life in prison Saturday for complicity in the murder of hundreds of anti-government protesters, ending a raucous trial that impassioned the Arab world and shook autocratic regimes across the region.
The verdict stunned this emotionally battered nation and spurred cheers from cities to distant villages. Mubarak and Habib Adli, his former interior minister, who was also sentenced to life, listened to their fates from behind the mesh of a defendants’ cage. Sitting on a stretcher, Mubarak, dressed in a striped shirt and beige jacket, was stone-faced behind dark sunglasses.
The court found no evidence that Mubarak ordered the killings, but blamed him for not using his power to stop days of bloodshed.
Before reading the verdict, presiding Judge Ahmed Refaat offered a searing indictment of Mubarak’s 30-year regime, calling it “without a conscience and with a cold heart.” He said Mubarak ruled by oppression, kept his people in poverty and allowed Egypt, once a “beacon” of the world, to tumble into “one of the most deteriorated, backward countries.”
Mubarak and Adli were charged with violently attempting to put down an uprising that last year swept them from power. More than 840 people were killed –- many of them shot –- by security forces between Jan. 25 and Feb. 11. The prosecution argued that only Mubarak, who has steadily consolidated power around his inner circle, could have given such an order.
Mubarak, who reportedly is ill, has been living in a Cairo hospital. It was not clear if the verdict means he will be transferred to prison, which many activists have demanded. The verdict is certain to exacerbate tensions between those who supported the rebellion and those loyal to Mubarak, including presidential candidate Ahmed Shafik.
The judge said the court heard 250 hours of trial testimony and read through 60,000 documents. He said he and his fellow judges had not “rested for more than 100 days.” He added: “This has been a fair trial . . . applied to the letter of the law.”
The courtroom hushed when Refaat, dressed in a green sash, his glasses sliding down his nose, said: “I will pronounce judgment. . . in the name of Allah.”
It was the first time the leader of an Arab nation has been sentenced for crimes against the state by a civilian court. The fractious trial and deliberately read verdict epitomized an Egypt unsettled over its uprising but also edging closer to the ideals that helped inspire rebellions across the Middle East and North Africa.
But many inside and outside the courtroom, including protesters holding pictures of those killed by Mubarak’s security forces, were outraged. Families of victims called for the death penalty, and skirmishes inside the courtroom forced Refaat to leave the bench.
Others were angry that several top police officials -– those commanding the forces on the ground during the uprising -– were acquitted.
“Mubarak and Adli will be acquitted on appeal too,” said Mohamed Ibrahim, whose brother was killed on Jan. 28, 2011. “If the court didn’t find the police officials who ordered the shooting guilty, then Mubarak’s and Adli’s verdict will be overturned.”
Mubarak’s sons, Gamal and Alaa, were acquitted in the same trial of financial corruption charges. Hosni Mubarak, who became president following the 1981 assassination of Anwar Sadat, left the courtroom on the outskirts of Cairo on a helicopter.
Egyptians are now bracing for a polarizing presidential election run-off between Shafik and Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi. The military, whose top leaders are Mubarak allies, rules the country. It has promised to hand power to a civilian government by July.
-- Jeffrey Fleishman
Photo: Egyptians celebrate as they hear the Mubarak verdict from a car radio outside the Cairo court. Credit: Amr Nabil / AP Photo