Five months after an uprising ended his 30 years of nearly absolute rule, Egypt’s ex-president Hosni Mubarak goes on trial Wednesday on murder and corruption charges that could see him hanged.
Mubarak, 83, is due to appear in court at the police academy in a Cairo suburb along with his two sons Alaa and Gamal amid one of the biggest security operations in the country’s recent history.
The trial is expected to start at 0700 GMT in an auditorium that has been fitted with a large black cage to hold the defendants, including former interior minister Habib al-Adly, on whom Mubarak relied to quell the revolt that overthrew him, and six police commanders.
Businessman Hussein Salem, a close associate of the Mubaraks, is being tried in absentia in the same case.
The defendants are all accused of stealing millions of dollars from the state and ordering the killing of anti-regime protesters during the January 25 uprising that brought down the Mubarak regime.
More than 1,000 police and soldiers will secure the complex and vet about 600 lawyers and journalists who have received permission to attend.
Mubarak will also face some relatives of the victims killed during the revolt, allegedly on his orders.
He has been under arrest for several months in a hospital in the Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh, where he is being treated for a heart condition.
For weeks, it seemed likely that Mubarak, who doctors say refused to leave his hospital bed, would be tried in Sharm el-Sheikh, but the justice ministry announced last week that the trial will be held in Cairo.
His lawyer, Farid al-Deeb, will argue that Mubarak is too sick to stand trial and that he did not sanction the brutal crackdown on protesters that left more than 850 people dead by the time Mubarak resigned on February 11.
Deeb claimed that Mubarak suffers from cancer and went into a coma last week, which the hospital denied. One of his doctors told AFP the ex-president was stable, but extremely depressed and weak after he refused food for several days.
Deeb’s announcements appear to have been intended to increase sympathy for Mubarak and to spare him the indignity of having to appear in the defendants’ cage.
In the past few days, the interior and health ministers both said they were preparing to ensure Mubarak’s attendance, which would go a long way toward assuring skeptics that he will face justice.
Egyptian television reported early Wednesday that a plane due to take Mubarak from hospital to attend his trial had arrived in Sharm el-Sheikh.
The military, which assumed power after his resignation, is keen to prove that it harbours no lingering loyalties to the former president.
“We do not want to see tension among the people in the street because of Mubarak’s absence,” Interior Minister Mansur Essawy told an Egyptian newspaper on Tuesday.
The trial will be the latest in a string of legal proceedings against members of the Mubarak era.
Several ministers have already been sentenced to jail in corruption cases, including Adly, sentenced to 12 years in jail for corruption.
Mubarak is the second Arab leader to be overthrown in the unrest that has swept North Africa and the Middle East since the beginning of this year.
Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who fled his country in January after a popular revolt, has already been twice convicted and sentenced in absentia for possession of arms, drugs and archaeological artefacts and for misappropriating public funds.
If Mubarak appears in court, it will be the first ever trial of an Arab leader overthrown by a popular rebellion.
On Tuesday, Amnesty International urged a “fair and transparent” trial.
“This trial presents a historic opportunity for Egypt to hold a former leader and his inner circle to account for crimes committed during their rule,” said Malcolm Smart, director for the Middle East and North Africa.
“But if the trial is going to be a meaningful break with Egypt’s record of impunity, it must be both fair and transparent — justice demands no less.”