, CAIRO, Aug 3 – Months after an uprising ended his 30-year-rule, Egypt’s ex-president Hosni Mubarak faced trial Wednesday on murder charges, in a historic moment for the Arab region whose leaders are rarely held to account.
Mubarak, looking pale and dressed in white, appeared on a stretcher inside a cage at the courtroom set up in the Cairo Police Academy, as his two sons stood by his side in the dock.
Former interior minister Habib al-Adly and six of his deputies were also in attendance in the same case.
Mubarak could be seen talking to his sons Alaa and Gamal, who appeared composed during the session which was being aired live on Egyptian television.
It was the former president’s first public appearance since he was ousted by a popular uprising on February 11.
Judge Ahmed Refaat, presiding over the Cairo Criminal Court, said the hearing would be conducted in “complete calm,” warning that anyone seen to disrupt the proceedings would be thrown out.
Mubarak was flown to Cairo earlier from the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik where he had been in hospital custody.
Barbed wire was erected outside the Police Academy and more than a dozen riot police trucks secured the entrances, an AFP reporter said.
Dozens of Mubarak loyalists clashed briefly with opponents outside the court, pelting each other with stones, before being quickly separated by security forces.
The trial is being held in an auditorium fitted with a large black cage to hold the defendants, including Adly, on whom Mubarak relied to quell the revolt that overthrew him, and six police chiefs.
Businessman Hussein Salem, a close associate of the Mubaraks, is being tried in absentia.
The defendants are accused of stealing millions of dollars from the state and ordering the killing of anti-regime protesters during the January 25 uprising that led to the downfall of Mubarak’s regime.
More than 1,000 police and soldiers are securing the complex and vetting about 600 lawyers and journalists.
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, 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 the trial would 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 month, which the hospital denied. One of his doctors told AFP the ex-president was stable, but extremely depressed and weak after refusing food for several days.
Deeb’s announcements appear to have been intended to increase sympathy for Mubarak and spare him the indignity of appearing in the defendants’ cage.
But the military, which assumed power after Mubarak’s resignation, is keen to prove it harbours no lingering loyalties to the former president.
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, already sentenced to 12 years in jail for graft.
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.
On Tuesday, international rights groups 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, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa.
“If these proceedings scrupulously reflect the international fair trial standards, it will embody a clean break with the record of impunity that characterised Hosni Mubarak’s rule, contribute to a new and hopeful chapter in Egypt’s