Mubarak facing death penalty in Egypt trial

An Egyptian court ruled today that former President Hosni Mubarak will go on trial this week for human rights abuses.

The 83-year-old Mubarak has been confined for months to a hospital in the seaside resort of Sharm el-Sheikh , where his supporters say he is too weak to stand trial.

CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer reports that the moment all Egypt had been waiting for happened Sunday, when the head of the criminal court - hidden behind a mountain of microphones -announced that Mubarak would stand trial, live and on television, on Wednesday.

For months, rumors that he was too sick to appear in court had angered Egyptians determined he should face justice.

"Our voices should be heard," says Mohamed Ashour. "I want to tell the prosecutor to make Mubarak's trial prompt, as it's been so long in coming."

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Even a year ago, it seemed impossible that the untouchable Mubarak, who'd ruled Egypt with an iron fist for 30 years, would be brought so low, so fast.

But back in January, millions of Egyptians, sick of chronic corruption and poverty, took to the streets demanding he step down.

More than 800 people were killed in what's become known as the revolution, but in the end, the people - backed by the army - got their way.

For a few weeks, life seemed to return to normal, and the mood was upbeat with fresh elections slated for the fall.

Gradually though, the crowds who hoped for political change saw only foot-dragging by the generals in charge, and the demonstrations started up again.

This past Friday, there were tens of thousands of people back in Cairo's Tahrir Square. One of their key demands was that Mubarak, his two sons and eight other cronies should face charges that include the killing of protestors back in the spring, and corruption.

"He was the symbol of the regime that the Egyptians wanted to change. Bringing him forward to justice in a transparent way depicts or at least symbolizes a process of accountability and transparency," says Rabad el Mahdi, professor of political science at American University Cairo.

Whatever the outcome, this is a watershed moment in the Middle East. If convicted, one of the most powerful dictators in the region, and longtime ally of America, could actually face the death penalty.

  • Elizabeth Palmer

    Elizabeth Palmer has been a CBS News correspondent since August 2000. She has been based in London since late 2003, after having been based in Moscow (2000-03). Palmer reports primarily for the "CBS Evening News."