CAIRO: Egypt’s deposed President Hosni Mubarak denied Wednesday that he ordered protesters killed during the 2011 uprising that deposed him, his first lengthy statement to a court as his year-old retrial draws to an end.
Speaking from a gurney inside a cage that holds defendants, the 86-year-old Mubarak described his 29-year rule as one that stabilized the country, a theme employed during his last days in power as the popular revolt against him grew and he resisted calls to step down.
“Hosni Mubarak speaking to you today would never order the killing of protesters or shedding the blood of Egyptians,” the former autocrat said in a speech where he appeared at times sympathetic but also defiant.
“I voluntarily chose to give up my responsibility as president to prevent bloodshed and to preserve national unity, for Egypt not to slip into a dangerous path toward the unknown,” he added, wearing a blue prison uniform and with reddened eyes.
Mubarak was found guilty in June 2012 of failing to stop the killing of over 900 protesters during the 18-day uprising and was sentenced to life imprisonment, but his conviction was overturned in January 2013. That decision was appealed by prosecutors, and a retrial began in April 2013.
Along with Mubarak, his security chief Habib al-Adly, convicted and sentenced to life in prison on the same charges, as well as six of el-Adly’s top aides, are also standing trial. All six were acquitted in the earlier trial.
The final verdict will be issued on Sept. 27, the judge said.
Police forces collapsed in the first days of the uprising, when protesters stormed police stations across the country and burned police vehicles after street clashes with security forces turned deadly.
Since the revolt, nearly 173 policemen and security officials have been put on trial, but all were acquitted either for lack of evidence or under the pretext that the police acted in self defense. The acquittals became a cornerstone of Mubarak’s defense strategy.
Mubarak said that the 2011 protests began peacefully but were taken over by “exploiters of religion inside and outside the country” who steered the demonstrations toward violence.
It was the same language often used by Mubarak-era media men and officials to refer to the Muslim Brotherhood group, whose leader Mohammad Morsi became Mubarak’s successor in the country’s first free elections in 2012.
A year later, the military overthrew Morsi after millions staged demonstrations against him demanding his resignation for what they called abuse of power. The government branded the group a terrorist organization and unleashed an unprecedented deadly crackdown against its supporters, who staged near daily rallies demanding Morsi’s return to power. Hundreds were killed and thousands jailed on violence-linked charges. Morsi himself faces charges that carry the death sentence.
The Brotherhood is preparing for mass demonstrations on Thursday to commemorate the anniversary of the violent dispersal of pro-Morsi sit-ins. Human Rights Watch accused authorities of using lethal force and said the killings amount to crimes against humanity, which the government angrily rejected.