Ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, whose spectacular downfall sent shockwaves across the region, faces trial Wednesday on charges of murder and corruption that could see him sent to the gallows.
Mr. Mubarak, 83, is due to appear in court at the Cairo Police Academy along with his two sons Alaa and Gamal, former interior minister Habib Al Adly and six security chiefs.
Businessman Hussein Salem, a close associate of the Mubaraks, is being tried in absentia in the same case.
They are all accused of stealing millions of dollars from the state and ordering the killing of over 800 protesters during the January 25 uprising that brought down their regime.
If found guilty of murder, Mubarak—who ruled Egypt with an iron fist for 30 years—could face the death penalty, the justice minister has said.
The former leader is in custody at a Sharm Al Sheikh hospital, where he is being treated for a heart condition.
A Cairo trial was a key demand of protesters whose relations with the ruling military and government have strained in the past weeks partly over accusations that they are delaying trials of former regime officials.
Despite his ouster, Mr. Mubarak remains a thorn in the side of the military which took power after the strongman was overthrown by 18 days of street protests.
Like all Egyptian presidents before him, Mr. Mubarak is a military man, which puts the ruling Supreme Council Armed Forces (SCAF) in an awkward position because he is one of their own.
The SCAF head and the country’s de facto ruler, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, was Mubarak’s defense minister for two decades.
Putting the man who ran the country for more than 30 years on trial could prove difficult, simply because he knows too much, analysts say.
Few would have imagined a Mubarak trial a few months ago, and many still don’t believe it will happen.
But the military leadership, which has come under fire for stifling dissent and is accused by activists of stalling reforms, is eager to show it is fulfilling its promise of bringing to justice all those accused of abuse.
Judge Ahmed Refaat, the head of the Cairo Criminal Court trying Mr. Mubarak, vowed a speedy trial.
He said the sessions would be aired live on Egyptian television to “reassure people of the (credibility of the) process.”
The trial would be “held daily until its conclusion,” he said in a statement in response to the widespread public belief that the opening hearing would be immediately adjourned.
Despite the army’s promises that the trial will take place on schedule in Cairo, questions remain on whether the former president’s health will allow him to appear.
The topic of much speculation, his medical state is shrouded in confusion and contradictory statements, as critics accuse him of malingering to avoid trial.
Last week, Health Minister Amr Hilmi told reporters that Mr. Mubarak’s health was “good” and that he was fit to be moved to Cairo.
A medical source who is familiar with the former president’s condition told AFP that Mr. Mubarak was “depressed” and state media said he was refusing to eat and has become weak.
His lawyer Fareed Al Deeb has said Mr. Mubarak suffers from stomach cancer and that he slipped into a coma, which the hospital treating him denied.
Wednesday’s trial opening, due to be attended by 600 people, is the latest in a string of legal proceedings against members of the Mubarak era.
Dozens of ministers, officials and businessmen associated with the old regime are in prison pending investigation into a range of charges.
Several ministers have already been sentenced to jail in corruption cases.
Mr. Mubarak had survived 10 attempts on his life and his health was also a subject of speculation. But in the end, it was the people who brought down Egypt’s latter-day pharaoh.
His rise to power came unexpectedly, when his predecessor Anwar Sadat—who made history by signing a peace deal with Israel—was gunned down by Islamist militants on October 6, 1981 at a military parade in Cairo.
Mr. Mubarak took office a week later, and then ruled without interruption until February this year.
Islamic fundamentalist groups—including Al Jihad, Gamaa Islamiyya and Talaeh Al Fatah—were responsible for most of the attempts on Mr. Mubarak’s life.
The first direct attempt to kill him came in 1993, a year after Islamists launched a campaign of violence aimed at toppling the secular Egyptian government, when a bid to fire rockets at his plush Cairo residence was foiled.
Later murder attempts included a plot to car-bomb the presidential motorcade in Cairo.
In 1995, militants opened fire on the presidential motorcade in Addis Ababa. The previous year saw an attempt to kill him with explosives as he was due to meet Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi at a military airport.
In September 1999, Mr. Mubarak was slightly wounded when a man with no apparent links to any Islamic group stabbed him in Port Said.
Mr. Mubarak’s reputation for vigor—he was once known to play squash almost daily—was dented in 2003 when he fainted while addressing parliament.
Officials blamed his collapse on a cold and the fact that he had been fasting during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
In 2004, he underwent surgery in Germany for a slipped disc, and he returned to Germany in March 2010 for the removal of his gall bladder and a growth on the small intestine.
Rumors that he had died under the knife were dispelled when state television showed him recovering.
Mr. Mubarak’s health was usually a taboo subject in Egypt and the father of two, whose wife Suzanne is half Welsh, kept his private life a carefully guarded secret.
In 2007, speculation about his health snowballed to the extent that Mr. Mubarak made an unscheduled public appearance to lay rumors to rest.
The octogenarian, with jet black hair—possibly dyed—and aquiline nose, was born on May 4, 1928 in the Nile Delta village of Menufiyah.
He rose through the ranks of the air force and fought in repeated wars with Israel, to claim hero status, before supporting late president Sadat in pursuing peace with the Jewish state in 1979.
Throughout his years in power, Mr. Mubarak maintained the unpopular policy of peace with Israel and accommodation with the West that cost Mr. Sadat his life.
His government, overseeing a developing nation of 85 million people, was the frequent target of domestic opposition—ranging from the Muslim Brotherhood to secular and liberal dissidents.
But the regime quashed militant groups which carried out attacks in the 1980s, 1990s and, more recently, 2004 and 2006 when the tourism industry was targeted.
His government’s ties with the United States and Israel made him a target of criticism across the region, especially during the 2006 Israeli war in Lebanon and Israel’s Gaza offensive in 2008-2009.
Domestic opponents accused Washington of turning a blind eye to human rights abuses, corruption and the Mubarak regime’s failure to push ahead with badly needed reforms.