Egypt's former president Hosni Mubarak and his sons are to defend themselves in court on Wednesday for the first time in the retrial of the former strongman on graft charges and the killing of protesters during the 2011 uprising that swept him from power.
The ex-president has been detained for more than two years since shortly after his overthrow until he was granted release last August and placed under house arrest at a military hospital in the south Cairo suburb of Maadi.
The hospital where the veteran strongman is being held said in a letter to the court dated Sunday that the ageing leader's health is almost stable and that he can be transferred for the hearing in a make-shift courtroom at a Cairo police academy that once carried his name, state news agency MENA reported.
The 86-year-old, however, is due to speak to the bench from inside an enclosed dock after one of his jailed sons made a plea on Monday to the presiding judge over the difficulty in moving his frail father to a podium due to him recently undergoing a femur operation.
Mubarak is being retried, alongside his interior minister and six of his top aides, for complicity in the killing of around 850 demonstrators during the 18-day popular revolt in 2011 that ended his 30-year reign.
He is the first Arab ruler toppled in that year's wave of uprisings to since face trial, appearing in a cage in surreal scenes that have enthralled millions in Egypt and the Arab world.
Earlier this week a Cairo criminal court began hearing hours-long pleadings by the defendants, with the proceedings broadcast live on TV. The court's decision to publicise the case has brought the lengthy trial into the limelight once again – after having taken a backseat following last summer's ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, who finds himself entangled in several court cases, along with much of the leadership of his Muslim Brotherhood group.
Judges believe the court measure to give Mubarak and his entourage a public platform to defend themselves is tolerable given the complexity and gravity of the case.
"It is the first time there is a case involving such serious charges, with hundreds of witnesses and the considerable hope the revolution aroused and that millions have pinned on it," said Judge Mohamed Hamed El-Gamal, a former head of the State Council, a judicial advisory body.
El-Gamal said defendants are normally allowed to merely provide answers for probing or illustrative questions. Acknowledging the procedure is "unprecedented", El-Gamal says it is still "proportionate" to the magnitude of the crimes of the accused.
But rights activists say this places Mubarak and his associates on unequal legal footing with imprisoned Islamists of Morsi's regime or pro-democracy activists.
"There is no problem for a judge to listen to defendants and their personal defence statements, but it's unfair to allow some of the accused to defend themselves while clamping down on others, whether they're Brotherhood or political activists," prominent Egyptian activist and lawyer Gamal Eid told Ahram Online.
Dozens of youth activists who were at the forefront of the 2011 uprising have been jailed on charges including illegal protesting – after a law that bans all but police-sanctioned demonstrations was passed late last year – and tens of Islamists have been sentenced to death in hurried mass trials amid a relentless state crackdown on the Brotherhood movement.
Pro-government media outlets depict pro-democracy activists as traitors serving foreign agendas aimed to topple the state.
"It's a defective justice system that favours defendants based on their closeness to the ruling regime," Eid said. "I wouldn't be astonished if Mubarak was released and the youths remained in jail."
Mubarak's two sons, Alaa and Gamal, are facing trial along with their father for alleged financial misdemeanours. The two men are also due to deliver their personal defence statements on Wednesday.
Mubarak's defence lawyer Farid El-Deeb said at a 2 August hearing that the ouster of his client was not a revolution but rather a foreign-funded "conspiracy that took advantage of anger of large swathes of people and inflamed it further."
In his speech to the court earlier this week, Habib El-Adly, Mubarak's interior minister, accused the Brotherhood of collaborating with the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas to ignite the 2011 unrest, saying that the revolution was part of a US plot for the Middle East. One of his aides, Ahmed Ramzi, who chaired Egypt's anti-riot police under Mubarak, claimed police were not armed during the uprising and were instructed to only use water cannons and tear gas to confront protesters.
Tens of police officers charged with the killings during the uprising have been cleared in a series of acquittals that right activists say could set the stage for Mubarak to walk free on similar charges.
Rights campaigners and anti-government activists say authorities are attempting to clean up the image of the country's police, infamous for human rights abuses that helped ignite the 2011 revolt.
Mubarak was found guilty in June 2012 of failing to stop the killing of protesters during the 18-day uprising and sentenced to life imprisonment. The conviction was overturned in January 2013 on appeal due to procedural failings and a retrial began in April 2013.
The ex-president was convicted in May of graft in a separate trial and given a three-year jail term, but he was not transferred to prison. His sons received jail sentences of four years each in the same case on charges of embezzling millions of public funds for renovation to family residence.
Mubarak is further accused in two other corruption cases.