CAIRO -- Egypt's prosecutor general Tuesday ordered former President Hosni Mubarak 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, 83, 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 new military rulers. The charges could carry the death sentence, said the prosecutor's spokesman, Adel el-Said.
It would be the first time in modern history that an Arab leader is sent to trial solely by his own people. Iraq's leader, Saddam Hussein, was toppled during the U.S. invasion in 2003, sentenced to death three years later for killing 140 Shia, and executed.
Mubarak and his two sons also were charged with abusing power to amass wealth, enriching associates and accepting bribes, the prosecutor general's office said. A close associate of Mubarak, Hussein Salem, also was charged with bribery. The sons, who are in detention in a Cairo prison, are facing investigation on other accusations.
The Mubaraks are accused of taking bribes to facilitate Salem's getting business deals, including land and a business deal to export gas to Israel.
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 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 civilian rule.
But the prosecution of the ex-president 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, including the hated emergency laws that remain on the books more than three months after his ouster.
"This [referral] is for the millions who suffered under Mubarak," said Zuhra Said, the sister of torture victim Khaled Said, whose deadly beating at the hands of police agents was one of the main driving forces behind the popular uprising.