CAIRO (Reuters) - The head of Egypt's ruling military council appears in a Cairo court on Sunday in the trial of Hosni Mubarak over the killing of protesters in January, giving testimony that could decide the fate of the ousted president.
Judge Ahmed Refaat has ordered Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi -- who served for 20 years as Mubarak's defense minister before he became the head of the ruling military council in February -- to testify behind closed doors and under a complete news blackout to protect national security.
The move has angered many Egyptians who had been demanding a transparent trial.
The military council has been under pressure from activists who overthrew Mubarak to ensure swift justice for the nearly 850 people killed during the uprising.
The state prosecutor's office said it served summons orders to Tantawi, Armed Forces Chief of Staff Sami Enan, Mubarak's former intelligence chief and briefly vice president Omar Suleiman and Interior Minister Mansour el-Essawy on Thursday.
Tantawi's testimony and that of other senior figures, including Suleiman could be crucial in deciding if Mubarak was guilty or innocent.
"As the former regime was a dictatorship, many of the important and political decisions were taken in secrecy and only among the state's top officials," said Nabil Abdel Fattah, political analyst at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.
Refaat last week ordered an accelerated trial of Mubarak and his former Interior Minister Habib al-Adli, who are charged with conspiring to kill protesters and inciting some officers to use live ammunition. Mubarak's two sons, Alaa and Gamal, are also on trial in the same case.
Thousands of activists demonstrated on Friday in Cairo's Tahrir Square, epicenter of the uprising, to push for a timetable for a transition to democracy.
Some of the demonstrators later converged on the Israeli embassy on the other bank of the Nile. They smashed a wall built by Egyptian authorities to protect the mission and stormed the building where the embassy is located, triggering a diplomatic crisis.
Some of the demonstrators at Tahrir Square had earlier taunted Tantawi over his testimony.
"Can you (Tantawi) tell the court on Sunday that he (Mubarak) did not order police to open fire?" said Mohamed, a 30-year-old driver who declined to give his full name.
Many opponents of Mubarak, who has attended each session lying on a stretcher after being hospitalised in April, have been frustrated by the slow pace and progress of the trial.
Mubarak, who was driven from office on February 11 after three decades in power, is the first Arab leader to stand trial in person since unrest erupted across the Middle East this year.
Plaintiff lawyer Hassan Abou El Einein called the decision to summon Tantawi "a big surprise that will transform the case and take us into an entirely different field."
(Reporting by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Peter Graff)