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The trial of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, which began Wednesday in Cairo, will send a strong signal to the rest of the world about the strength of Egypt’s new government. Many view the trials, which are being broadcast throughout the region, as an opportunity for Egypt to take a step toward open democracy and away from the legacy of Mubarak’s authoritarian justice system.

[Mubarak’s trial] was, in the words of pastry shop owner Saif Mahmoud in Baghdad, a “rewriting of the rules between the region’s people and their leaders”.

Palestinian Salah Abu Samera, 29, saw emerging democracy.

“It’s unusual in the Arab world,” he said, in the West Bank city of Ramallah. “This is the first time we see a leader in a real court. This is good for democracy, good for the future. We’ve always heard of leaders on trial in Israel, in Turkey, in the U.S., or Europe. But this is the first time in the Arab world.”

Another Palestinian, retiree Mohammed Adnan, 64, described Mubarak’s trial as a “huge move” for the region. He said the longtime Egyptian strongman never would have treated his people as he did had he headed a democratic country and knew he would be held accountable for his actions.”

If Mubarak’s trial goes smoothly, it will send a strong message to the region and to the world that the successes of Egypt’s revolution did not end with Mubarak’s removal from power.

With great opportunity also comes great risk. There are legitimate questions regarding the strength of Egypt’s legal institutions, and the chaos surrounding the first day of the trial has done nothing to assuage fears that Egypt’s judicial system cannot handle such a high profile case. About 53 people were injured in riots outside the courthouse, and inside the courtroom confusion often reigned (highlighted by a bizarre moment in which a lawyer speaking on behalf of Mubarak’s victims claimed that the former President has been dead for 7 years, and that the man standing trial today is an imposter).

The Egyptian revolution has inspired similar uprisings across the region, and pro-democracy advocates are watching the outcome of Mubarak’s trial with great interest. If Egypt is unable to prosecute Mubarak with a fair trial, it could strike a serious psychological blow to other democratic movements. It could also greatly undermine the legitimacy of Egypt’s young government.

Nobody can be sure how the Egyptian justice system will perform in the upcoming months; the only certainty is that the entire world will be watching.

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