Egyptian pro-democracy campaigners called for a new uprising saying justice was not served by the trial of Hosni Mubarak and others blamed for the killing of protesters during the street revolt that ended his three-decade rule.
In the first judicial reckoning of a leader toppled in last year’s Arab spring uprisings, Mubarak was handed a life prison sentence. His sons were found innocent of corruption charges and senior policemen were acquitted.
Thousands took to the streets for protests that went on through the night in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and in other cities, adding to political tension building since Mubarak’s last prime minister made it through to a presidential election run-off, Reuters reports.
Many took the verdicts as proof the Mubarak clan still holds sway as Egypt prepares for the vote on June 16 and 17, billed as the final stage of an army-led transition to democracy.
“This was not a fair verdict and there is mass rejection of the judge’s ruling,” said one protester, Amr Magdy. “Tahrir will fill up again with protesters. In Egypt the only way you can get any justice is by protesting because all the institutions are still controlled by Mubarak figures.”
The general prosecutor lodged an appeal on Sunday against the acquittal of six senior police officials charged with killing protesters, and banned them from travelling, the prosecutor’s assistant said.
Young liberal and left-wing revolutionaries who led last year’s uprising were dismayed when their own candidates lost the first round of the presidential election last month.
The run-off will pit former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq, who holds Mubarak as a role model, against the candidate of the socially conservative Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Mursi.
Shafiq has taken a tough stance on law and order, appealing to many Egyptians tired of protests, political chaos and insecurity that have damaged the economy. Critics say he also has the backing of the powerful army.
“The judiciary issued its ruling based on the documents it had and we must accept it,” said lawyer Mohamed Abdel A’al, who opposes more street protests. “Why do they want to suspend the election? Do they want further turmoil?”
Suspicion is widespread that the military, led by Mubarak’s old defence minister, will still wield heavy influence whoever becomes the next president. Egypt has been led by army officers since 1952. Shafiq is a former air force commander.
About 1,000 protesters were gathered on Sunday in Tahrir Square – focal point of the January 2011 revolt that brought down Mubarak – vowing to stay until there was justice for those killed in the uprising.
Dozens of young men ransacked Shafiq’s campaign office in Fayoum south of Cairo overnight, the second such attack in recent days, state news website al-Ahram reported. Shafiq campaigners in Cairo confirmed the attack.
“Do they think that by burning Shafiq’s headquarters, they will burn Shafiq? Forget it,” Shafiq told reporters on Sunday, warning that a vote for Mursi is a vote for the unknown.
“The Brotherhood represents the darkness and secrets and nobody knows who they are and what they do… I represent Egypt, all of Egypt,” he said.
Mursi, who has been struggling to rally the support of candidates defeated in the first round, met leftist Hamdeen Sabahy and another defeated candidate, Islamist Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh, on Saturday night behind closed doors, according to people who attended the gathering.
Sabahy and Abol Fotouh, who was ejected from the Brotherhood last year and has campaigned on a more moderate political platform, came third and fourth in the May 23-24 vote and have refused to throw their weight behind Mursi.
“The situation now is deadlocked but one scenario would be to stop the second round from happening,” said a political activist who witnessed the meeting. “We plan to call for marches on Monday, Wednesday and a big million-man march on Friday,” the activist said.
Egyptians living abroad began a week of voting for the run-off on Sunday.
As Mursi sought the backing of other groups that took part in the uprising against Mubarak, many liberal Egyptians and Coptic Christians voiced support for Shafiq as a bulwark against the Brotherhood, which already dominates parliament.
“Leaders of the revolution are very selfish. The revolution is starting to be a taboo where you are in danger if you criticize it a bit,” said Ibrahim Sawiros, a student living in the Netherlands.
Sawiros, a Christian, said he voted for Sabahy in the first round “for the sake of the revolution” but would vote for Shafiq in the run-off because it was a vote against Mursi.
Poverty, police brutality and anger at corruption drove the 18-day revolt that unseated Mubarak. Around 850 people were killed when the security forces tried to re-assert control over the country of 82 million people.
When the fallen leader was first wheeled into a courtroom on a hospital trolley last year, it sent shockwaves through the Arab world, where autocrats have long held sway.
The defendants denied charges that ranged from the killing of the protesters to corruption and abuse of power.
State television said Mubarak suffered a “health crisis” while being flown from the court to Cairo’s Tora prison, where he was admitted to a hospital facility. He had been held at a luxurious military-run hospital during the 10-month trial.
Former interior minister Habib al-Adli was also given life in prison. Mubarak’s sons Alaa and Gamal had corruption charges quashed, but stay in jail over another case.
The judge acquitted the other senior security officials for lack of evidence, a decision that worried lawyers for victims’ families who said that could help Mubarak win any appeal.