Middle East

Mubarak's fate bespeaks power struggle

The Mubarak family
Image caption Hosni Mubarak and his sons could even face the death penalty

The decision to put Egypt's former President Hosni Mubarak on trial looks to be a clear response by the country's military rulers to pressure from the opposition.

A matter of days ago, the possibility of an amnesty for Hosni Mubarak was being openly discussed. His wife Suzanne Mubarak was released from custody after handing $4m (£2.5m) of assets to the government.

The same deal was under consideration for the former president, according to apparently well-sourced leaks in the newspapers.

But if it was an attempt to test the idea on the public, it backfired badly on the military.

They quickly denied that there was any plan for amnesty. Yet the idea still provoked calls for a major demonstration this Friday, in which there will be new demands for the army to hand over to civilian rule.

Power struggle

So, the cynics suggest, the military are playing to the crowd, and putting the president - their former commander and colleague - on trial to save their skins.

There's continued speculation over whether Mr Mubarak will be brought from Sharm el-Sheikh, where he is in hospital, to Cairo - another gesture that might please the opposition.

A committee of experts is reported to be visiting him to assess his condition.

He could either be moved to the military hospital in Cairo, or even to the hospital wing of the prison in which his sons Gamal and Alaa, and many other former officials and businessmen, are already being held.

Image caption Protesters are demanding tough sentences for members of the former regime

That would be a humiliating blow for a former president who is already reported to be confused and depressed following his rapid fall from grace.

In theory, Mr Mubarak and his sons could even face the death penalty on the charge of ordering the security forces to open fire on protesters.

That might satisfy some of the more outspoken protesters. But there is evidence that many other Egyptians feel that the detention and trial of the 83-year-old and his family is a distraction from the urgent task of rebuilding the country, whatever his alleged crimes.

It is all part of the ongoing tussle for power between the ruling military council, and the various sections of Egyptian society.

It was always going to be a complicated situation when President Mubarak was succeeded, ousted maybe, by the military officers who had helped keep him in power for so many years.

At the time, there was much debate over whether to call it a revolution or a coup.

Since that day, three and a half months ago, the opposition have made it abundantly clear they are not prepared to accept the replacement of one military dictatorship by another.

The military themselves do seem ready to hand over power, while fighting also to maintain their privileged position in Egyptian society.

The day-to-day affairs of the country are being run by the third prime minister and cabinet to be sworn in since January.

It is a struggle for power which could be played out for many months and years, and Hosni Mubarak's fate is just one of the many issues in play.