Prosecutors on Thursday called for Hosni Mubarak to be hanged, saying he bore full responsibility for the killing of protesters during the uprising against him, in a courtroom moment unthinkable barely a year ago when the longtime leader held unquestioned power.
The demand for the death penalty at the 83-year-old former president's trial played to the widespread resentment of Mubarak among Egyptians who hoped that punishment for his oppressive rule would be fruit of the Arab Spring.
Still, some of the activists who helped topple him are skeptical the sentence would ever be carried out, if he is convicted. A conviction would be followed by a possibly lengthy appeals process that the ailing Mubarak's lawyer would likely draw out, and Egypt's new rulers _ the military _ have the power to veto a death sentence.
Mubarak has been brought to every hearing since his trial began on Aug. 3 on a hospital gurney, wheeled into the courtroom cage where defendants are held, alongside his two sons, former security chief and six top police commanders.
On Thursday, prosecutor Mustafa Khater gave a passionate speech demanding the death penalty for Mubarak, former Interior Minister Habib el-Adly and four of the police commanders. They are charged with complicity in the deaths of some 800 protesters during the 18-day uprising that led to Mubarak's fall on Feb. 11.
"Retribution is the solution. Any fair judge must issue a death sentence for these defendants," said Khater, one of five prosecutors in the case.
"We feel the spirits of the martyrs flying over this hall of sacred justice, and those who lost their sight by the bullets of the defendants are stumbling around it to reach the judge and demand fair retribution from those who attacked them," he said. "The nation and the people are awaiting a word of justice and righteousness."
For separate corruption charges leveled against Mubarak, his sons Alaa and Gamal and a close family friend on the run, Khater demanded unspecified prison sentences with hard labor. Two police commanders charged with gross negligence face prison terms.
Khater's speech came on the last of three days of sessions in which the prosecution laid out its case, following months of testimony by witnesses, aiming to show that Mubarak and el-Adly _ who was in charge of the police _ ordered security forces to use deadly force against protesters.
Chief prosecutor Mustafa Suleiman said earlier in Thursday's session that Mubarak was "politically and legally" responsible for the killing of the protesters. He charged that Mubarak was aware from meetings with aides, regional TV channels and reports by his security agencies that the killings were taking place but did nothing to stop them.
El-Adly authorized the use of live ammunition on orders from Mubarak, he said. "He (Mubarak) can never, as the top official, claim that he did not know what was going on," Suleiman told the court.
"He is responsible for what happened and must bear the legal and political responsibility for what happened. It is irrational and illogical to assume that he did not know that protesters were being targeted."
Addressing Mubarak directly, Suleiman said, "If you had not issued these orders yourself, then where was your outburst of rage over the loss of the lives of your people?"
The trial's presiding judge, Ahmed Rifaat, adjourned the hearings until Monday, the first of two days he said would be assigned to the lawyers for the victims' families to state their case. Next would be the turn of the defense for all 11 defendants.
The timeline has led to speculation in the courtroom that Rifaat wanted to wrap up the case and issue a verdict before Jan. 25, the first anniversary of the start of the 18-day uprising that toppled Mubarak's nearly 30-year rule. The youth groups behind the uprising are planning mass protests across the nation, not to celebrate the day, but to demand that the generals who took over from Mubarak step down.
"It will not be a second revolution as some are saying," prominent protest leader Shadi Ghazali Harb said. "The first revolution is not over yet. On January 25 we will continue our struggle on a special day. "
Harb, like other activists, suspects that a death sentence may be announced before Jan. 25, but only to appease the revolutionaries who maintain that Mubarak and his two sons were only arrested and brought to trial after a series of mass protests that followed Mubarak's Feb. 11 ouster. The Mubaraks were arrested in April.
Harb said he was skeptical a death sentence would be carried out.
"It will be a political sentence that will most likely be overturned on appeal," Harb said.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland refused to comment on the death penalty request. "The international community is looking to Egypt to set a high standard with this trial and with other procedures going forward now," she said.
Even if Mubarak is convicted and sentenced to death by Jan. 25, the former leader has a lengthy recourse to appeal that could last months, said Omar Hagag el-Shal, who represents several victims' families in the Mubarak trial.
He also held out the possibility that Mubarak's lawyer, Farid el-Deeb, would try to draw out of the appeal process.
There is also the possibility that Mubarak will be cleared of the protester killing charges and convicted on corruption accusations, bringing him a prison sentence but sparing him the noose. The corruption charges emanate from his association with friend and business tycoon Hussein Thabet, who allegedly sold Mubarak and his family five luxury villas at a fraction of their market price in return for Thabet landing a lucrative deal to export natural gas to Israel.
Even if a death sentence is upheld throughout the appeal process, the nation's head of state _ a position currently held by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces _ could veto the execution.
The nation's ruling generals are highly unlikely to allow his execution if his sentence was upheld on their watch.
The Supreme Council is led by Mubarak's defense minister of 20 years. The generals on the council are beholden to Mubarak since their rise through the ranks was only possible with his approval. Mubarak is a former air force chief and a decorated war hero. Already, several of the generals have publicly commended Mubarak for stepping down rather than see the country plunging into prolonged bloodshed like Libya's civil war and the continuing violence in Syria.
The military has said that presidential elections would be held before the end of June and that it would step down when the new head of state is sworn in. It has yet to announce dates.
Mubarak's trial is without precedent in the Arab world and is an Arab Spring landmark.
Iraq's Saddam Hussein was tried, convicted and hanged in an Iraqi court, but the process was guided by American legal experts. Tunisia's Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled the North African nation in the face of a popular uprising, taking refuge in Saudi Arabia. Libya's Moammar Gadhafi, after a 42-year reign, was captured and killed by revolutionaries in October after a monthslong civil war. Yemen's leader Ali Abdullah Saleh has agreed to step down after 33 years in power, but there is no sign the turmoil in his Arabian peninsula nation is ending any time soon.
Many Egyptians have grown exasperated with the turmoil in their nation since Mubarak's ouster, particularly over a worsening economy and precarious security. Though some voices are against executing Mubarak, many would find satisfaction in the punishment of a man they believed ruled Egypt as if it was his personal property and planned to pass it on to his son.
Suleiman, the chief prosecutor, summed up these sentiments in comments he made in court on Tuesday.
"He deserves to end in humiliation and indignity: From the presidential palace to the defendants' cage and then the harshest penalty," he said. "He refused to willingly relinquish power in response to the will of his own people, so it was forcefully taken from him."
Another prosecutor, Wael Hussein, told Thursday's hearing that one of the six police commanders on trial _ former chief of the hated state security agency Hassan Abdel-Rahman _ personally gave orders to allow inmates to escape from a string of jails across the nation during the Jan. 25-Feb 11 uprising.
The thousands of escaped prisoners have been blamed for a dramatic surge in crime since Jan. 28 last year, when almost all vestiges of state authority collapsed. Most of the inmates have since been captured and returned to jail, but Egypt continues to suffer higher than usual crime rates.
The other three generals facing a possible death sentence are Adly Fayed, chief of general security, Ismail el-Shaer, Cairo's security chief, and Ahmed Ramzy, chief of the central security forces, or riot police.