Ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak goes on trial Wednesday over allegations that he conspired to kill protesters who drove him from office after 30 years at the helm, but whether he shows up was still in question on the eve of the trial.
Egyptian security authorities received notice to move Mubarak to Cairo, Al Arabiya television said on Tuesday, but a senior security source denied that.
Mubarak, 83, has been hospitalized in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh since April, when he was first questioned.
Many Egyptians see his illness as a ruse so the army can avoid publicly humiliating their former commander, who has been charged with conspiring to kill protesters and other crimes.
Al Arabiya, which cited one of its reporters, said the notice about moving the ousted president was issued to authorities in South Sinai, which is responsible for the Sharm el-Sheikh area. But a senior South Sinai security source denied that to Reuters.
Later, however, an airport source in Sharm el-Sheikh said a notice was circulating saying Mubarak would be flown from there to Cairo between 6 a.m. and 7.30 a.m. Wednesday morning.
A security source said that Mubarak would be moved by helicopter if he is taken to Cairo.
The health minister has said the former president is well enough to be moved. A source at the hospital said staff were on standby to transfer him early on Wednesday but could not confirm if a decision had been taken to do so.
Demonstrators are likely to be enraged if Mubarak does not appear in the court that has been set up in a Police Academy complex where he addressed the nation two days before protests against his rule erupted on Jan. 25. He quit Feb. 11.
A large cage has been set up in a hall where the trial will proceed. Defendants in Egyptian criminal trials are put behind bars during court sessions.
"I really hope he will come to court and stand trial. This man has done a lot of bad things to his people, and there is no excuse for him to do so, but whether he will get convicted or not, I really do not think I will live to see this day," said Mary Gerges, 23, speaking in Cairo on her way to work.
Conspiracy, abuse among charges
"I think the man is so guilty, and I don't know how he cannot have been aware of all the bad things that were happening when he was in power. He was the president and was in charge of everything," said Saleh Abdel Aziz, 52, owner of a shop store in Abdel Aziz street in downtown Cairo.
Mubarak will stand trial with his two sons, Alaa and Gamal, as well as former Interior Minister Habib al-Adli and six other senior officers. A business executive included in the trial will be tried in absentia.
Charges range from conspiring to kill protesters to abuse of power to amass wealth.
If convicted, Mubarak could face the death penalty, though few expect that outcome even if some protesters wish it.
One lawyer representing 16 of the roughly 850 people killed in the 18-day uprising, Gamal Eid, said he and some other lawyers representing victims had not been given permits to attend the trial.
"We have asked to view Mubarak's file ... and until now we have not been allowed to do that and for no valid reason," he said, adding that he had been allowed to see files related to the former interior minister's case, which has been merged into Mubarak's case.
"This makes us worry about the seriousness of the trial. But we will go to court tomorrow and stand outside it if we are not allowed in," he told Reuters.
The state news agency MENA said about 200 lawyers had tried to storm the office of the judge in charge of issuing the trial permits to protest that they have not been given one.
MENA said security had been stepped up at the Police Academy and surrounding area, including streets leading to the complex.
"The plan will include 20 armed vehicles and around 3,000 soldiers ... along with an armed cordon that will be put around all the entrances of the academy," the agency said.
Only those with permits issued before the trial will be allowed to enter the hall. The presiding judge said a maximum of 600 people would be allowed to attend.
The judge in charge of issuing permits said those allowed to attend were the relatives of the accused, accredited journalists and some family members of victors or other members of the public who registered before.
In his last address to the nation as president, Mubarak vowed he would never leave his homeland and would die on its soil.
"I and Egypt will not part until I am buried in its soil," Mubarak said Feb. 10, the day before he was ousted.