Hosni Mubarak, Egypt's dictator for three decades, went on trial for murder this week for ordering the killing of 850 protesters this winter as the Arab Spring took hold in the land of the Pharaohs.

The prosecution of Mubarak marks the first time that an Arab nation, on its own, is holding its ruler accountable. It's a spectacle for the masses, as the Middle East watches someone, once so feared, confined in a steel mesh cage and defending his actions.

For Egyptians, the trial symbolizes one of the triumphs of their revolution -- corruption by the powerful will not go unpunished; victims might finally be vindicated. If Mubarak and his sons, who are also on trial for corruption, are convicted, it will be time for restitution.

Still, genuine democracies are founded in just legal systems, and the Mubaraks deserve a fair trial -- an elusive ideal in a highly politicized environment and rushed judicial process. While the trial is cathartic, many challenges will loom after it ends. A legitimate government that is secular and just is far from being established; a date for elections has yet to be determined. Gains made by the democratic youth movement are threatened by conservative Salafi protesters who support an Islamic state governed by Sharia law. Disturbingly, the far-right group has shown a strong presence, gathering hundreds of thousands of its members in Tahrir Square last week.

The trial of Mubarak is but a milepost on what may be a long, grim path to a peaceful, stable nation. hN