Egyptian prosecutors called on Thursday for hanging former President Hosni Mubarak, saying his authority over the security forces made him responsible for the deaths of hundreds of protesters who challenged his rule.
Egyptian law authorizes the death penalty for the deliberate murder of a single victim, one of the prosecutors, Mostafa Khater, told the court. So what, he asked, is the appropriate sentence for killing hundreds? “There is life for you in the law of retribution, o men of understanding,” he said, quoting the Koran.
The prosecutors laid out their closing arguments in the historic trial of Egypt’s disgraced head of state as Egypt’s military rulers and their activist opponents braced for mass demonstrations on the Jan. 25 anniversary of the protests that forced him out. The final defense arguments are expected as early as next week, so the panel of judges could render a verdict before the anniversary.
The final decision could help determine whether that date is a day of anger or celebration. But the deliberations over a man who ruled with an iron fist for nearly three decades are also riveting the region. Tunisia seeks the extradition of its former president, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, now in Saudi Arabia, the first of the Arab leaders forced from power by a popular uprising. Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s son and heir apparent, Seif al-Islam el-Qaddafi, awaits trial in Libya.
President Bashar al-Assad in Syria is directing far greater violence against the protesters hoping to end his rule, with the killing of an estimated 5,000 demonstrators in the past 10 months. And President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen has taken the first step toward leaving power amid charges that he, too, authorized his military to attack demonstrators who demanded his exit.
In Cairo, the prosecutors have predicated their case against Mr. Mubarak on the principle that he was responsible for the deaths by virtue of his official position — that, like the other Arab leaders, he either knew or should have known about the killings by his own security forces in the central squares of Egyptian cities.
“He is responsible for what happened and must bear the legal and political responsibility for what happened,” said the lead prosecutor, Mustafa Suleiman, news agencies reported. “It is irrational and illogical to assume that he did not know that protesters were being targeted.”
After five months of intermittent sessions bogged down by legal squabbles and technical motions, prosecutors have failed to produce specific testimony or evidence that Mr. Mubarak, 83, directly ordered the use of force or the shooting of demonstrators. They contended on Tuesday that the police had obstructed their efforts to gather evidence, forcing the prosecution to rely on showing video of police violence that was previously shown on private television networks.
Mr. Mubarak and his interior minister, Habib el-Adly, both said in sworn depositions that the president had not given orders to use force, Mr. Suleiman acknowledged dismissively. “This is crazy people’s talk,” he said.
“He is the one with the interest in oppressing these protests and in killing the protesters who only went out to call for his ouster,” Mr. Suleiman added. Except for orders from above, the security officers themselves would have no other motive to kill the demonstrators, he argued.
To make its case, the prosecution drew on events as long ago as 1997. The interior minister then was blamed, and fired by Mr. Mubarak, when terrorists killed foreign tourists in Luxor that year. But there was no evidence that Mr. Mubarak had felt such anger or sought to punish Mr. Adly for allowing the killings of so many Egyptian citizens last year, Mr. Suleiman said. “How could he be enraged for the lives of a number of foreigners but not care or be equally enraged for his people?” the prosecutor asked.
Prosecutors introduced statements at the trial from the depositions of former Interior Ministry officials and from Mr. Mubarak’s former intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, to show that the ministry could never have given an order to shoot protesters without presidential authorization.
At one point, Mr. Suleiman also sought indirectly to discredit the testimony of Egypt’s de facto chief executive, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, who was Mr. Mubarak’s defense minister as well as a close friend. Mr. Tantawi testified in a closed court that Mr. Mubarak had never ordered the military to use force against protesters, people present have said and the Egyptian news media have reported.
But in his deposition Mr. Mubarak said that after the police force collapsed on Jan. 28 the armed forces refused his order to go to the streets to control the chaos. “When I found that they did nothing and didn’t perform their role the way that was required, I was forced to step down,” he said, according to the deposition.
What had Mr. Mubarak asked of the armed forces if not to use force, the prosecutors asked. How else did he want them to control the streets?
Victims’ lawyers who had previously complained that the prosecution seemed half-hearted were on Thursday pronouncing themselves delighted.
Mr. Mubarak, said to be ailing, listened on his back inside the metal cage that serves in Egyptian courts as a docket. He is charged with Mr. Adly and Mr. Adly’s top aides with conspiring to kill protesters in an attempt to hold on to power. Mr. Mubarak is also charged along with his sons Gamal and Alaa of corruption.
Egypt’s new rulers — the military — have the power to veto a death sentence.
A day after prosecutors accused the police of obstructing the case, state media reported Thursday that the current interior minister had said that his ministry’s near-total collapse after Jan. 28 had handicapped its ability to produce certain evidence.