Egypt’s former president on trial

The Associated Press

CAIRO — From a bed inside the defendants’ cage, an ashen-faced Hosni Mubarak showed a glimmer of his old defiance. Egypt’s former president wagged his finger in the air and denied all charges against him Wednesday as he went on trial for alleged corruption and complicity in the deaths of protesters who helped drive him from power.

The spectacle, watched live on state television by millions of Egyptians, calmed the fury of those who suffered under his rule.

The father of a slain protester, among those sweltering in the heat outside the courtroom on the third day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, was ecstatic.

“The biggest achievement of this revolution is that all these crooks and scum are in a cage,” said Mohammed Mustafa El-Aqqad. “We’re here to tell Hosni, ‘Happy Ramadan. Congratulations on your new cage.’”

With Arab Spring revolts sweeping the Middle East, the sight of Mubarak during Wednesday’s hearing could serve as a powerful cautionary tale for other autocratic leaders who have long acted as if they alone were fit to rule. People watching the spectacle across the region proclaimed it a watershed.

“This is the beginning of democracy in the Arab world,” declared Rabha Idris, an engineer from Libya.

“This is a new era,” enthused Zainab Hassan, a 22-year-old university student from Bahrain, a tiny Gulf Arab nation whose Muslim Shiite majority is demanding equality with the Sunni minority. “The people now believe they can be free from dictatorship.”

Printed on Thursday, August 4, 2011 as: Ill Mubarak goes on trial, provokes revolutionaries