Egypt's Mubarak faces verdict over killing of protesters

Hosni Mubarak in February 2011 before he ceded power. Credit: Reuters

Hosni Mubarak returns to court today to hear a judge rule on whether he is guilty of conspiracy in the killing of protesters during last year's uprising.

If convicted, the 84-year-old former president who governed Egypt for 30 years before a popular uprising toppled him last year, could face anything from a few years in jail to the death penalty.

Hundreds of police surrounded the court set up at a police academy on Cairo's outskirts. Protesters held images of those killed in the uprising and calling for Mubarak's execution. "Dear God, take Mubarak and those with him!" they chanted.

Few Egyptians expect he will go to the gallows, even if some think that is what he deserves. Hanafi el-Sayed, whose 27-year-old son was killed in the first days of the uprising that had travelled from Alexandria for the trial.He said:

I want nothing less than the death penalty for Mubarak. Anything less and we will not be silent and the revolution will break out again

Mubarak's two sons, standing trial with their father, alongside his former interior minister and six other senior officers, arrived at the court, state media reported. Television images showed the inside of the court and the cage where Mubarak and other defendants will be put to hear the ruling.

It is the first time an Arab leader ousted by his people has been placed before a regular court. Mubarak's trial had Arabs glued to the television last year and sent a message to other autocrats battling rebellions what fate might await them.

"Mubarak's trial has the potential to set a meaningful regional precedent for accountability for human rights abuses and for upholding international fair trial standards," Human Rights Watch wrote in a report before the session.

But the ruling could not come at a more sensitive time for Egypt, right in the middle of a fraught presidential election that pits a figure from the Muslim Brotherhood, banned under Mubarak, against the deposed leader's last prime minister.

The verdict could herald more political turmoil.

An acquittal or a light sentence could send protesters back on the streets. Many are already angry that the hated police force, blamed for about 850 deaths in the uprising, and other pillars of Mubarak's rule have survived his downfall intact.

A conviction would prompt demands for Mubarak to be transferred to prison from the hospital where he has been held in custody.

Egyptians saw Mubarak as they had never seen him before when his trial opened on Aug. 3, about six months after he was ousted. The man once at the centre of ceremonial state events was wheeled into the court on a hospital gurney.

He has appeared on a stretcher for each session since then, suffering from undefined ailments, and flown in by helicopter from a military hospital on the edge of the sprawling capital.