Ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak is in court for a historic trial. But questions remain over whether he will be well enough to last and face the charges of murder and corruption laid against him.
Even sentencing Mubarak may not heal Egypt's divisions
Former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak is standing trial in the capital in the Cairo Police Academy which once bore his name.
Mubarak, who oversaw a corrupt system that routinely tortured people in detention and crushed opponents, is facing charges of stealing millions of dollars from the Egyptian state and ordering the killing of over 800 protesters during the January 25 uprising.
If found guilty, the former president could face the death penalty.
Many in Egypt had been skeptical that the 83-year-old would ever see the inside of a court room, despite Health Minister Amr Hilmi's recent announcement that Mubarak was well enough to be tried.
Mubarak's health failed dramatically after 18 days of street protests finally brought to an end his 30-year, iron-fisted rule in February. It is said that soon after his spectacular downfall, Mubarak briefly slipped into a coma.
In the event of Mubarak being too ill to attend, there had been some discussion over moving the trail to Sharm el-Sheikh. But any deviation from the original plan to try him in Cairo would have angered the hundreds of protestors who have returned to the capital's now iconic Tahrir Square to demand that Mubarak should face swift justice in a public trial.
Egypt on tenterhooks
A Cairo trial was a key demand of the protesters who ousted the Mubarak regime, and with tensions already high between Mubarak's critics and the ruling Supreme Council Armed Forces (SCAF) over the speed of reforms and the bringing to justice of former regime figures, there was a danger that any delay or postponement would trigger further unrest.
Even the desired verdict may not be enough to prevent what some regional experts believe to be an unavoidable escalation.
The SCAF under Tantawi faces pressure from the street
"Finding Mubarak guilty might provide a form of closure for Egyptians but it would not directly affect the deteriorating situation in the country," Kristian Ulrichsen, a Middle East and North African expert at the London School of Economics, told Deutsche Welle.
"Egyptians are finding that the removal of an outdated leader is merely the tip of an iceberg and that the networks of vested interests and crony capitalists with stakes in the regime are almost impossible to dislodge."
According to Ulrichsen, none of this will be directly affected by Mubarak's verdict.
"On the one hand, this trial will satisfy many victims of the Mubarak regime and help to calm the protesters who demanded it," Stephan Roll, an Egypt expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, told Deutsche Welle. "On the other, many followers of the old regime will be very angry, which of course could further destabilize the situation."
It's vital to comprehend that the regime consisted not only of the Mubarak family and some close allies and cronies but that it also comprised a substantial part of the population itself, Roll added.
"The former ruling National Democratic Party alone was said to have up to two million members," he said.
Military rulers accused of protecting regime
Many in the opposition believe that the SCAF, granted powers of government until elections originally scheduled for September can be held, is attempting to hinder the process against Mubarak who, as a former military man, is effectively one of their own.
Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the man who heads the SCAF and who is Egypt's de facto leader at the moment, was Mubarak's defense minister for 20 years.
Protests in Tahrir Square could again turn violent in the future
As well as stalling on reforms, delaying the elections and stifling dissent in much the same way as Mubarak did, the SCAF is accused of protecting former regime figures who remain in positions of power within the interim government structure and of trying to avoid publicly humiliating its former commander-in-chief.
"Mubarak and his immediate family fell in February but the networks that sustained him in power remain embedded," said Ulrichsen.
"For this reason it is unlikely that any other than the worst abusers of power and corruption will be brought to trial," he added.
The Mubarak trial puts the SCAF is an awkward position. The allegiances towards many of those who have already faced trial and those who could be brought before a court remain. But Egypt's military leaders are also acutely aware that fulfilling their promise of bringing to justice all those accused would ease the pressure rising on the streets of Cairo.
"From the point of view of the military leadership this trial should probably draw a line under the process of coming to terms with the past," said Roll. "However, from the point of view of the protest movement and many parts of the population, this trial should be just the beginning."
Dozens of ministers, officials and businessmen associated with the old regime are already in prison pending investigations into a range of charges while several ministers have already been sentenced to jail in corruption cases. But it is Mubarak's trial which holds the most significance for Egypt and the country's painful and stalled transition to democracy.
Author: Nick Amies
Editor: Michael Knigge