CAIRO — Egypt's prosecutor general ordered Tuesday that former President Hosni Mubarak be put on trial on charges of corruption and conspiring in the deadly shootings of protesters during the uprising that ousted him, a stunning step against a leader whose power was nearly unquestioned for three decades.
The announcement that Mubarak would face a criminal court grants a major demand of Egyptians who have threatened a second revolution amid growing worries about the slow pace of change under the country's new military rulers. The charges could carry the death sentence, said the prosecutor-general spokesman Adel el-Said.
It would be the first time an Arab leader is sent to trial solely by his own people in modern history. Iraq's leader Saddam Hussein was toppled during the U.S. invasion in 2003 and sentenced three years later to death for killing 140 Shiites.
"It is the first time that a living president is going to face victims of his abuse before an ordinary court in the region," said Hossam Bahgat, a prominent human rights activist. "It is precisely because of this unique and unprecedented nature that we need for this trial to be as credible as possible."
Mubarak was forced to step down after an 18-day popular uprising that was met with a heavy security crackdown. A government fact-finding mission said at least 846 people were killed and thousands injured.
Mubarak transferred power to a military council on Feb. 11, which promised to guide Egypt's democratic transformation to a civilian rule.
But the prosecution of the 83-year old Mubarak remained a sore point under the new leadership. Protesters pressed demands that Mubarak face justice, taking to the streets a number of times and criticizing the military for stalling.
The statement from prosecutor general Mahmoud Abdel-Meguid, who also served under Mubarak, came ahead of a planned Friday protest that was to have focused on calls for Mubarak be put on trial and for remnants of his regime to be uprooted.