Former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak has denied embezzlement allegations as he issued an emotional defence of his legacy in his first public remarks since his dramatic ouster.
The statement, broadcast at the end of a turbulent weekend that saw a deadly military crackdown on protesters, only stoked more public anger in the midst of Egypt’s turbulent transition to a more democratic system.
In the pre-recorded audiotape, the 82-year-old Mubarak spoke with a tone of authority more in keeping with his past power than his current situation.
He said he had agreed to “authorise” an investigation of his finances, and promised to sue all those who smeared his reputation.
As the ruling military council comes under increasing public pressure for its management of the post-Mubarak transition, the ex-president’s first words were a reminder that he still has a grip on the country’s mood.
Shortly after the speech was aired, Egypt’s prosecutor general announced he had issued orders summoning the ex-president and his two sons for questioning on the embezzlement allegations.
The scope of the investigation was also widened to include the crackdown on protesters that killed an estimated 300 people.
The move could help ease public anger now largely directed at the military.
The pan-Arab news channel Al-Arabiya, which broadcast the speech, said it was recorded on Saturday, a day after demonstrators gathered in huge numbers in Cairo’s Tahrir Square to demand that the military council that took over from Mubarak launch an investigation into his wealth.
The speech seemed to be as much about preserving his dignity as about denying the accusations against him.
“I was hurt very much, and I am still hurting – my family and I – from the unjust campaigns against us and false allegations that aim to smear my reputation, my integrity, my (political) stances and my military history,” Mubarak said.
The speech came as hundreds of protesters remain barricaded in Tahrir square, the epicentre of the uprising that forced Mubarak from office after 30 years in power.
Friday’s protest by tens of thousands was the biggest since Mubarak’s ouster on February 11, which followed 18 days of mass demonstrations.
Despite constitutional amendments to allow free elections and other steps toward a freer political scene, many in the anti-Mubarak movement are sceptical of the military’s pledges to meet all demands.
Trust between the military and the reform movement suffered a serious setback when soldiers stormed their protest camp in the pre-dawn hours on Saturday, killing at least one person and injuring 71 others.
That increased calls for the resignation of the head of the military council running the country, Defence Minister Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, a Mubarak appointee.
It also spurred protesters to retake Tahrir Square, shutting down traffic in the heart of the city.
By midnight Sunday, several hundred protesters remained barricaded in the Square behind barbed wire, burned-out troop carriers and makeshift checkpoints they set up to keep out vehicle traffic and search people for weapons. There was no sign of the military.
Since his ouster, Mubarak and his family have been under house arrest at a presidential palace in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, their assets frozen.
But Mubarak has not been charged.
In his speech, the former president said he only possessed a single account in an Egyptian bank and only held property in Egypt.
He said he would agree in writing, if requested, to allow the prosecutor-general to contact other countries to investigate whether he or his wife, Suzanne, owned any accounts or property abroad.
He said the move was to “prove to the people that their former president only owns domestically, according to previous financial disclosure.”
Many were not impressed.
“It was a condescending statement, and the way it was worded was provocative,” said Nasser Abdel-Hamid, a member of a youth coalition that led the 18-day protest.
Wael Abdel-Fattah, a columnist and a founder of a group demanding a clear course for transitional justice in Egypt, said Mubarak’s speech amounted to a “challenge” to the country’s military rulers, who had clearly disagreed on how to treat their former boss.
“He didn’t only steal the wealth but he is a repressive leader that killed his people,” Abdel-Fattah said.
Essam El-Erian, a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood, said Mubarak still believes he is above accountability.
“Trying Mubarak is not only about bringing back the money. It also sets a precedent here that every ruler and president that comes after will know” he will face prosecution for any violations, El-Erian said.