CAIRO: Egypt's military ruler and one-time confidant of Hosni Mubarak failed Sunday to attend a court session in which he was expected to offer highly anticipated testimony about the former president's alleged role in the death of protesters.
State TV said Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi was requested to return to court later this month.
The report on Egyptian State TV did not give a reason for Tantawi's absence in court, but a defense lawyer said Tantawi told the court he was dealing with the fallout after the storming of the Israeli Embassy in Cairo on Friday by protest mobs.
The delay is a major disappointment for Egyptians impatient to have Mubarak-era officials pressed for details on the inner workings of the regime. The court has asked Tantawi and other former regime insiders to take the stand in the Mubarak trial. The report said the judge requested Tantawi to appear Sept. 24.
It is unprecedented for a court in Egypt to summon such high-level figures — particularly authorities from the highly secretive military and intelligence services.
Assem Qandil, a lawyer for one of the defendants tried along with Mubarak, said that Tantawi notified the court in a written statement that he couldn't show up because of the tensions after the embassy assault.
Qandil, who represents a former senior security official, said that Tantawi offered to send written testimony, but "the judge refused and reissued a request for Tantawi to show up in court."
The prosecution office said in a statement on Sunday that it summoned Tantawi and Chief of Staff Sami Enan to give their testimonies on Sept. 24 and 25 respectively. Enan too isn’t expected to appear in court on Monday as previously scheduled.
Mubarak is charged with ordering the killings of anti-government protesters during the uprising that toppled him in February and left Tantawi in charge of a ruling military council. Nearly 900 people died in the unrest.
Mubarak's trial depends heavily on accounts by Tantawi and other members of the former president's inner circle who are expected to testify in the coming days.
Tantawi had previously said in a televised speech that the army refused orders to shoot at protesters during the uprising that ousted Mubarak.
Among the others summoned by the court were Enan — the second highest-ranking figure on the military council — and Omar Suleiman, who was appointed vice president by Mubarak during the uprising and was his powerful intelligence chief. He is seen as a figure holding many of the regime's secrets.
The trial is scheduled to resume Tuesday with Suleiman expected to give testimony.
The sessions are closed to the media and public. All reporting on the proceedings is banned.
Trial judge Ahmed Refaat, at a Sept. 7 hearing, ordered that the two senior military officials testify behind closed doors for reasons of "national security."
Earlier television footage of the first two sessions of the trial which opened Aug. 3 showed the ailing 83-year-old Mubarak, who faces charges of involvement in the killings of protesters and corruption, lying on a stretcher and in a cage in the courtroom.
The trial is being held in a police academy once named after Mubarak on Cairo's outskirts.–Additional reporting by Daily News Egypt.