Why the Mubarak trial goes untelevised

Media hype created by the live TV broadcast of Mubarak’s trial has added extra stress to an already sensitive and highly complicated court case.
Essam Badran
17 August 2011

Egyptians have met the decision to stop live TV broadcasting of the trial of their ousted president Hosni Mubarak with mixed reactions. What explains the court decision?

The majority of Egyptians met the decision with resignation. They seem satisfied with the pace of the trial and have faith in the panel of judges’ credibility. In fact, seeing  Mubarak behind bars was beyond their wildest imaginations.

In a climate of uncertainty and widespread rumors, a few Egyptians seem to be favouring conspiracy theories and speculating that Mubarak may get a light sentence or turn out to be not guilty, or as a taxi driver told me, “I bet you that Mubarak is on his way out of Egypt. Haven’t you noticed how Gamal, Mubarak’s son, waved his hand to say goodbye.” Still, many Egyptians have watched the footage of Mubarak behind the bars with shock and complete disbelief.

What seems to have happened is that the trial turned into a TV show in which attorneys were competing to show off their lengthy speeches, leading to unlimited skirkishes, with the judge calling for silence in a desperate attempt to restore order. 

From a legal perspective, the judge has discretionary power to take all necessary decisions needed to serve justice in the case.The media hype inside the court and the political tensions between pro and anti-Mubarak supporters outside the court could also have played a part in the decision. Once it was taken, legal observers began to argue that witnesses’ testimonials broadcast live on TV could sway other witnesses so that they changed their accounts.

Others justified the decision with security and political concerns. The court is likely to call Hussein Tantawi, the Field Marshal and head of Military Council, and Omar Suleiman, the former chief of intelligence, to give their personal accounts. Besides, the court is going through sensitive issues such as the nature of the relationship between Mubarak and the army, and the secret gas deal between Mubarak and Israel. Maybe the court decided to prevent any “classified information” from going into the public domain.

Only the members of the panel know the exact motives behind the court decision. However, the decision has a number of political consequences.

The army and transitional government have improved their image and won back the trust of the street in arranging this trial of Mubarak live on TV. The two sessions that were televised have assured Egyptians that Mubarak and his two sons are behind bars, facing fair trial. The trial sent a clear message to Egyptians and to the outside world that there is no going back, and that Egypt is moving forward in its path for a newborn democratic Egypt.

So what more needs to be achieved? Moreover, it can be argued that further television coverage of the trial could threaten the legitimacy of the court, especially with the rising pace of violence outside the court and tensions inside. In other words, the court decision preserves the dignified image of court trials and keeps the possibility of leaving any future irregularities unreported.

The court decision was also welcomed by many, for putting an end to the media hype over Mubarak. These people are hoping that Egyptians can move on and turn a page over the past rather than keeping the public preoccupied with the trial over the next six to nine months when the court will reach its final verdict.

Despite the fact that Mubarak’s trial will go untelevised; the debate among Egyptians over the trial proceedings and outcome is not likely to let up. The symbolic value of the trial will continue to resonate in Egypt throughout its history.

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