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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne.
It was an historic moment today in Egypt, a scene no one would have predicted just months ago. Hosni Mubarak, who ruled his country with an iron grip for 30 years, went on trial in a Cairo courtroom.
The ousted Egyptian president faces charges in connection with the deaths of more than 800 protesters during the massive demonstrations in Egypt earlier this year, an uprising that toppled him. He also faces charges of corruption, as do his two sons who are on trial with him. NPRs Mike Shuster joins us now from Cairo.
And Mike, what was the scene it must have been, sort of astonishing?
MIKE SHUSTER: Well, it was astonishing, it was really quite extraordinary. Until the last moment, nobody in Egypt really knew what to expect and everybody was uncertain about whether Mubarak would actually appear in a courtroom.
He was flown, this morning, from a hospital where he's been for several months, in Sharm el-Sheikh, to Cairo. They brought him in on a helicopter to this police academy where they've created a courtroom. They moved him by ambulance to the building where the trial was to be held. And then they brought him into the courtroom, he was lying on a hospital gurney, he was covered with a sheet up to his chin, and they moved him into a defendant's cage. This is a cage with iron mesh and armed and iron bars that, in certain criminal cases, defendants are placed in. And that's where Hosni Mubarak, the long-time former president of Egypt, was put.
MONTAGNE: Well as you said, he was in a hospital gurney because he has been sick and he hasn't been seen in public for a month. How does he look?
SHUSTER: It was actually hard to tell, Renee, because he was lying down and the television shot was difficult to get. So you got little glimpses of him as he was lying back with his head on the pillows. He didn't look terribly sick, at least for an 83-year-old man. He looked reasonably well, but he was just lying there and he was listening. And his two sons are also on trial with him, and they occasionally leaned over and spoke into his ear if he couldn't hear what was going on in the courtroom.
MONTAGNE: Let's talk a little bit about the charges against him. These charges, some of them, carry the death penalty.
SHUSTER: That's right, Mubarak is charged with responsibility for causing the deaths of more than 800 demonstrators by orders that he allegedly gave to the interior minister and to the security police to fire on the crowd. He is also charged with numerous counts of fraud in connection with some real estate deals and a natural gas pipeline deal, as well. So he's facing a great number of charges a very complex case. But certainly, in the case of causing the deaths of demonstrators, he could be sentenced to death.
MONTAGNE: And what was the mood in Cairo around this extraordinary trial?
SHUSTER: I'd say it's - it's definitely it was definitely tense. There were scuffles that broke out between pro and anti Mubarak demonstrators this morning near the court house, or near the police academy where the trial took place. They were throwing rocks and bottles at each other. The police the riot police were very slow to move in and stop it. And periodically, during the morning and even into the afternoon, scuffles like that broke out more than once.
MONTAGNE: And it's over for the day, but what is expected in terms of how long this trial will run.
SHUSTER: Well, that's not clear. It's the case has been adjourned for Mubarak and his sons, 'til August 15th. The other defendants, the interior minister and others, will continue their trial tomorrow. And I have to add one thing, Renee. Mubarak did not speak in the courtroom today, accept to respond to the accusations, the bill of indictment, in which he said: I deny all the charges.
MONTAGNE: Mike, thanks very much.
SHUSTER: You're welcome.
MONTAGNE: NPR's Mike Shuster, speaking to us from Cairo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.