Former Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, is sentenced to life in prison for his role in the killing of hundreds of protesters in the first court ruling since the start of the Arab Spring.
Thousands of Egyptians poured onto the streets to mark the occasion as the 84-year-old was convicted. Wheeled into the Cairo courtroom on a stretcher and wearing dark sunglasses after he was flown from a military hospital to court by helicopter, he was jailed alongside his former interior minister, Habib el-Adil.
His two sons, Gamal and Alaa, were cleared of a number of corruption charges, alongside six security officials.
However fears were raised that the evidence used to convict the former president was “weak”, generating speculation that he and Adil may launch a successful appeal. Disappointment was also expressed that the security officials were acquitted.
State television reported that Mubarak then suffered a heart attack while being taken to prison. The official MENA news agency reported that he suffered a “surprise health crisis” when his aircraft landed at Tora prison, on the outskirts of the capital.
A former ruler of nearly 30 years who had been nicknamed the “pharoah” to reflect his belief that he regarded the presidency as his by right, Mubarak made no expression as the verdict was read out.
Scuffles broke out inside the courtroom when the sentence was handed down, with people at the court reacting angrily to the acquittal of his sons and security officials. The crowd declared the judgements “false”, and said: “The people want to clean the judicial system.”
Outside the court, stones were thrown at riot police. Others had come to celebrate the jailing of Mubarak, the first Arab leader to be tried in his own country.
Those celebrating included relatives of the 850 people killed during last year’s revolt which toppled the former leader. Many had been demanding the death penalty for Mubarak. They greeted the verdict with fireworks and cries of “Allahu akbar”.
“The court has ordered a punishment for Hosni Mubarak of life in prison based on charges of participating in crimes of killing and attempted killing.” Judge Ahmed Refaat, Cairo
Soha Saeed, whose husband was killed in the uprising, shouted: “I’m so happy. I’m so happy.”
But in a message on Facebook, a member of the youth reform movement expressed misgivings. “We ask you to head to Tahrir Square to reject the acquittal of Adil’s people which guarantees that Mubarak will get acquitted in the appeal,” the message said.
Delivering sentence, Judge Ahmed Refaat described the start of Mubarak’s 10-month trial as a “historic day”, and praised Egyptians for removing the only leader many of them had known.
“The court has ordered a punishment for Hosni Mubarak of life in prison based on charges of participating in crimes of killing and attempted killing,” he told a hushed courtroom.
“The people of Egypt woke on Tuesday, 25 January to a new dawn, hoping that they would be able to breathe fresh air…after 30 years of deep, deep, deep darkness.”
It is the first time that a former ruler deposed in the Arab Spring, which claimed the political lives of four rulers, has been tried in an ordinary open court.
Egypt, however, continues to face political uncertainty. In two weeks, the country faces a run-off in its first free presidential election that will pit the Muslim Brotherhood – which was banned under Mubarak – against the deposed autocrat’s last prime minister.
In the 16 and 17 June run-off, ex-air force chief Ahmed Shafiq, who has described his former boss as a “role model”, will face the Brotherhood’s Mohamed Mursi.
Following the verdict, the Muslim Brotherhood demanded a re-trial for Mubarak.
“The public prosecutor did not carry out its full duty in gathering adequate evidence to convict the accused for killing protesters,” Yasser Ali, campaign spokesman for Brotherhood presidential candidate Mohamed Mursi told Reuters.