REPORTING FROM CAIRO -- Covered in a blanket and wheeled in on a gurney, deposed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak returned to the courtroom Wednesday in a murder and corruption trial that has at once thrilled and frustrated a nation attempting to move beyond his three-decade rule.
The trial resumed after a three-month break as a hospitalized Mubarak was flown by helicopter to a hearing room at the police academy on the outskirts of Cairo. He is charged with complicity in the deaths of more than 800 protesters and financial crimes involving real estate deals and natural gas contracts with Israel.
The case, like much that has unfolded since last winter’s revolution, symbolizes an Egypt seeking democracy and justice while confronting the legacy of an 83-year-old despot whose allies, including the ruling military council, have refused to step aside. The euphoria surrounding Mubarak's first appearance in the dock in August has subsided into the resignation among many that he may be acquitted.
The country’s attention also has been diverted by protests, economic strife, parliamentary elections and deadly clashes between demonstrators and security and military forces that have left nearly 100 dead in recent months. Mubarak’s fate looms at the edge of this tumult, another reminder to the Arab world that the ideals of a year of upheaval and revolution are far from realized.
Wednesday's proceedings mainly dealt with technicalities and a request that Sami Anan, the chief of staff for the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, be called to testify.
The trial followed last week's denial of a request by victims' families that Judge Ahmed Refaat be removed from the case. The families argued that the judge did not vigorously question Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the top military leader and onetime defense minister, about his former boss' role in the violence that led to hundreds of deaths in January and February.
Scores of families of those who died during last winter's revolution gathered outside the courthouse, carrying photos of loved ones and threatening to kill Mubarak, who faces the death penalty, if he is not found guilty. They also expressed anger toward the military for its crackdown on demonstrations and the nation's continuing turmoil.
“This is an army that killed demonstrators in Tahrir Square last week, so how do we trust them in bringing someone like Mubarak to justice?” asked Ahmed Sanad, a protester standing outside court among victims’ families.
The Mubarak trial includes the cases against his two sons, Alaa and Gamal, who are charged with financial crimes, and former Interior Minister Habib Adli and six of his police aides, who are accused in the deaths of protesters. Billionaire businessman Hussein Salem, whose close ties to the Mubaraks allegedly allowed him and the president's family to benefit from real estate and gas deals, is being tried in absentia.
The hearing lasted a few hours and was adjourned until Jan. 2.
--Amro Hassan and Jeffrey Fleishman
Photo: A protester shouts slogans outside the trial of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak at the Police Academy in Cairo on Wednesday. Credit: Khaled Elfiqi / EPA