Hosni Mubarak's power over Egypt was unquestioned for nearly 30 years. Then, in January, anti-regime demonstrations erupted in Cairo and other major cities. The protesters brought a quick end to reign of Mubarak, but not before 850 of them were killed in a crackdown.
On Wednesday, the deposed Egyptian ruler went on trial. He is accused of complicity in the killing of the protesters and corruption for accepting gifts to
facilitate a land deal. If he is found guilty, Mubarak could face the death penalty.
Many Egyptians doubted it would ever happen. Then, a helicopter appeared over the police academy where the trial is taking place. An ambulance
appeared, presumably to pick up Mubarak and bring him to the court. Finally, millions watched live on Egyptian state television as the defendants entered a specially-designed cage inside the courtroom.
First, Mubarak's two sons arrived, Gamal and Alaa, along with the former interior minister, Habib al-Adly. And finally, Hosni Mubarak himself was wheeled in on a hospital bed. He was dressed in prison whites.
This was Mubarak's first public appearance since he was ousted in February. The charges were read out to the courtroom. When Mubarak's turn to speak
came, he seemed tired but alert. Lying down, he took the microphone from one of his sons.
"Sir, I am present," he said. The ex-president was asked if he heard the charges against him.
"I deny all these accusations completely," the former dictator said as he waved his hand dismissively. Mubarak and his two sons pleaded not guilty.
The proceedings today were relayed on a giant TV screen set up in the parking lot outside the courtroom. Hundreds of Egyptians had gathered there to watch. Most cheered the sight of Mubarak facing justice. But some came out to support him.
As I watched, things started to get out of hand. There were scuffles, some rock throwing between rival groups of demonstrators — and between demonstrators and police — and police appeared to make some arrests.
The fighting never spun completely out of control, however, and hundreds of people were able to watch Mubarak's first courtroom appearance. But one young man — who gave his name as Mohamed — literally doubted his own eyes.
"This might not even be Hosni Mubarak himself," Mohamed told me. "This could be a fake trial. There is an international conspiracy going on here."
But Fatma Omar watched the big screen and expressed hope for what the defendant's fate could mean for Egypt.
"God willing, God willing," she repeated. "I hope there will be a death sentence for all those responsible for killing demonstrators."
"The Egyptian people have lived under 30 years of corruption, injustice and oppression. I hope the verdict in this trial will be good for the future."
The judge called an end to the session at about 2 this afternoon. He said the trial of Mubarak and his sons will continue on August 15th.