Analysis: Mubarak vs Saddam

The trials of deposed Egyptian President and Hosni Mubarak and his counterpart Saddam Hussein look very similar, but are they?

Gabe Kahn. ,

Saddam and Mubarak
Saddam and Mubarak

The opening of Hosni Mubarak's trial in Cairo on August 3 seemed to echo Saddam Hussein's trial in 2004-2006. 

But apart from both trials representing milestones in Arab history where tyrants are tried before their own people, the two trials are have significant differences.
The first difference between the two is that Saddam was brought to court — and hanged — under the watchful eye of the Bush Administration. Mubarak, however, was toppled and brought to court by the Egyptian people themselves.
Precisely because it was the US who toppled Saddam, many international names spoke out against his trial, including former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad, former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark, former French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas, and former Algerian President Ahmad Bin Bella.
Additionally, human rights groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch refused to endorse the Saddam trial, claiming it was unfair, as did UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Amnesty, for example, said that the legal process was marked by "serious flaws that call into question the capacity of the [Saddam] tribunal."
As for Mubarak, no international body or Arab statesman in their right mind would dare oppose a deposed president being propped up for trial by his own people. The only two international figures to come out in Mubarak's defence are Israeli President Shimon Peres and Israeli politician Benjamin Ben-Eliezer. 
Revenge played a public role in Saddam's trial, especially with its verdict and how it was carried out. Saddam's execution in December 2006 looked more like a revenge lynching than the proper implementation of a court verdict. No serious court would allow hooded men in black to execute the accused while chanting the name of their leader, "Moqtada, Moqtada" (in reference to influential Shiite political leader Moqtada Al Sadr). 
The same can be applied to the cell phone filming of the entire Saddam execution — where no police officers were present — shedding serious doubt on the court's neutrality.
Mubarak's trial has to date been handled with dignified and plodding judicial prudence that belies the political pressures driving it, but it could quickly transform into an open revenge hearing if not administered properly.
Mubarak had a humiliating entry into the courtroom on a hospital bed while Saddam marched confidently in wearing a suit, and carrying the Quran. Mubarak looked resigned to the trial and was unwilling even to make an effort to defend himself. Saddam, however, put on a spectacular show when asked for his name, returned the question by asking the judge: "Who are you? I want to know who you are!"
At another point, Saddam shouted, "This is all theatre… the real criminal is Bush!"
When guards tried to escort him out of the room, he shoved them away — very different from Mubarak, who seemed to have surrendered to the will of his handlers. 
Mubarak made no effort to address his supporters during the trial, while Saddam did, calling on Iraqis: "Purify your hearts and fight the foreign occupiers." 
Mubarak did not mind having his name, with no titles or honors, being called out in court, whereas Saddam was furious when the judge addressed him as "former president." Saddam insisted that he was still President of the Republic and had not been deposed.
In the end, Hosni Mubarak -- toppled and tried by his own people -- has acted with dignity and resignation, while Saddam decided to go down fighting in a flamboyant blaze of final glory.
However, despite the differences in the outward conduct of their trials and personal styles, Mubarak and Saddam have a fundamental point of similarity: both knew the purpose and verdict of their respective trials from the beginning. The people they oppressed demand satisfaction. 
The only difference is their posture towards fate.