In his first comments to the media since he was detained more than two years ago, Egypt's ousted leader Hosni Mubarak said he is dismayed at the country's state of affairs and particularly the plight of the poor.
The 85-year old Mubarak said in remarks published Sunday in Al-Watan newspaper that it is also too early to judge his elected successor, Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, because he has a heavy burden to deal with. He also warned against a much-negotiated loan from the International Monetary Fund, saying it would make life harder for the poor in Egypt, where over 40 percent of the population lives on less than $2 a day.
The authenticity of the interview could not be immediately verified. Calls by The Associated Press to Mubarak's lawyer Farid ElDeeb went unanswered, but he was quoted as telling Ahram Online, the electronic version of the state-owned Al-Ahram, that the interview was a "fabrication."
Al-Watan's reporter, Mohammed el-Sheik, took photos of himself near and inside Mubarak's medical helicopter, without the ex-leader inside. El-Sheik said he conducted the interview after sneaking into a waiting area where Mubarak was held during his trial Saturday, apparently before the hearing began.
He also told the private ONTV station Sunday that he couldn't record the interview because he had to avoid Mubarak's tight security.
Mubarak has been a longtime nemesis of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group from which Morsi hails. In his comments to the privately owned Egyptian paper published Sunday, Mubarak appeared to be gloating, painting a picture of a nation that has unraveled following his 2011 ouster and portraying himself as a protector of the poor.
Mubarak stepped down in February 2011 in the face of a wave of popular protests whose main slogan was "Bread, Freedom and Social Justice." Protesters accused Mubarak of fostering a culture where power was centralized and police acted with impunity. They also believed Mubarak was grooming one of his sons to succeed him.
Mubarak's comments to Al-Watan also appeared to be addressing a growing segment of the population which has grown nostalgic for Mubarak's days amid continuing turmoil in the two years since his ouster. The country has been plagued by tenuous security and an enduring standoff between Morsi's Brotherhood and its Islamist allies and the largely secular opposition, which launched the 2011 revolt but failed to make political gains since.
Mubarak told the newspaper reporter he was "very, very sad" for impoverished Egyptians. He said he was also dismayed by the state of the economy, the industrial cities built during his nearly 30 years in office, and the country's lack of security.
The comments were Mubarak's first to be directly made to a reporter since his ouster, and his first public statements since his captivity. They came after a hearing in his retrial for his role in the killing over 800 protesters during the popular uprising. At the trial, Mubarak appeared in the dock on a hospital gurney, alongside his two sons. The trial was adjourned for June 8.
Mubarak was detained two years ago and put on trial on the same charges. He has since been hospitalized, sentenced to life in prison, had his sentence overturned and then granted a retrial.
The first Arab leader to be put on trial by his own people, Mubarak is also facing corruption charges in separate cases, where prosecutors are investigating his family wealth amid claims he amassed a massive fortune while in power. His two sons are also on trial on corruption charges.
In his comments, Mubarak also said he feared for the country's future and its poor should tough economic measures be imposed in order to acquire a $4.8 billion loan from the IMF. Egypt's economy took a hard hit over the last two years as foreign reserves dwindled, foreign investment sharply declined and tourists largely stayed away amid political turmoil.
Morsi's government would have to impose likely unpopular austerity measures as part of an economic reform program it is currently negotiating with the IMF. But talks have dragged on, while politics remain deeply polarized and consensus on managing the country's affairs is elusive.
Mubarak also said he is certain future generations will view his legacy fairly and that history will "exonerate" him.
Mubarak's last public comments were in April 2011, just before he was detained. At the time, Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya TV station aired a prerecorded audiotape by Mubarak, in which he emotionally denied he used his position to amass wealth.
Also on Sunday, Egypt's highest appeal court granted a Mubarak-era steel magnate a retrial in one of a number of cases he is facing. Ahmed Ezz, who has been handed a combined 54 years of prison sentences and fined billions of dollars, will be retried on charges of money laundering in which he previously received a seven-year prison sentence and fined nearly $3 billion.
Ezz has received the heaviest penalties yet in the slew of trials against former regime officials. Many of Mubarak's government ministers have either been freed, or are still on trial.
Some have entered into talks with Morsi's cash-strapped government.
On Sunday, Mubarak's former Trade Minister Rachid Mohammed Rachid was taken off an arrest list and his assets unfrozen by the attorney general.
Rachid, who was in Dubai during the 2011 uprising and has not returned, was sentenced to 15 years in prison and ordered to pay more than $200 million for approving production licenses to steel magnate Ezz without auctioning them publicly. In a separate case, Rachid was convicted of squandering public funds and sentenced in absentia to five years in prison and ordered to pay nearly $800,000.
It was not immediately clear how much Rachid paid to settle with the government.