Egyptians react with dismay as former president is convicted on lesser charge and given sentence 'wide open' to appeal
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Egypt's stuttering revolution has taken a dramatic new turn after Hosni Mubarak, the country's all-powerful dictator for 30 years, was sentenced to life imprisonment for enabling the massacre of protesters who rose up against his rule.
But initial euphoria at the historic verdict - the first time an Arab leader has ever been deposed, tried and convicted by his own people - quickly gave way to confusion and then fury on the streets as full details of the court judgement emerged.
Watched by tens of millions on live television, the judge, Ahmed Refaat, declared that neither Mubarak nor any other defendants in the so-called "trial of the century" were responsible for ordering the lethal assault by security forces last January and February that left almost a thousand demonstrators dead, and that the toppled autocrat and his former interior minister Habib al-Adly were guilty only of not using their high political office to put a stop to the bloodshed.
All other charges, which included profiteering and economic fraud, were dismissed, allowing key members of Mubarak's family and security apparatus - including his two sons Gamal and Alaa and several top security officials - to walk free. Legal experts claimed the ruling left Mubarak's life sentence "wide open" to appeal, and political analysts said the outcome was a victory for the deep state and a sign of the old regime reasserting its grip over the country.
"The verdict shows that they are quite willing to cut off the heads of the regime and throw them to the dogs in an effort to preserve the rest," argued Issandr el-Amrani, a columnist on Egyptian affairs who blogs as the Arabist.
Amnesty International said the ruling had failed to end a culture of impunity for security officials and politicians guilty of human rights abuses, and warned that the wait for genuine justice went on.
Against the backdrop of a looming presidential poll pitting the Muslim Brotherhood against Ahmed Shafik, Mubarak's final prime minister and the man many Egyptians believe has been promoted by the military junta and the now-disbanded NDP party to crush the revolution, Refaat began his verdict with a florid paean of praise to those who died for freedom. Describing Mubarak's reign as three decades of "black oppression without any glimpse of hope", he went on to call the start of the post-Mubarak era a "bright new day for Egypt".
But as the complete verdict was delivered inside the police academy turned courthouse in the eastern suburb of New Cairo where the 10-month trial took place, scuffles erupted in front of the bench and angry lawyers chanted "the people want the cleansing of the judiciary".
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Jack Shenker and Abdel-Rahman Hussein in Cairo