CAIRO Egypt's ousted president may be tried next month in the Red Sea resort where he is in hospital, not Cairo, sources said on Monday, a move that could anger protesters who say the army wants to shield its former commander.
Hosni Mubarak, 83, has been in hospital in Sharm el-Sheikh since April when he was initially questioned. He has been detained there and charged with abusing power and killing protesters in the uprising that unseated him on February 11.
When he was charged, Judge Sayed Abdel-Azim said the trial would be in a criminal court in north Cairo district.
Protesters have been frustrated with the slow pace of the trial of a man they blame for killing more than 840 protesters in the uprising and for creating a state that concentrated power and wealth in the hands of an elite.
Many ordinary Egyptians are skeptical about Mubarak's illness, seeing it as a ruse so the ruling army can avoid a humiliating public trial for the decorated war veteran.
"It is likely Mubarak's trial will be held in a criminal court in Sharm el-Sheikh, which is being set up now by the Justice Ministry for the trial," a judicial source told Reuters.
"Should his health condition get worse, the trial will be held in the hospital where Mubarak now is," the source said.
Protesters who have camped in Tahrir since July 8 have criticized the army for not transferring Mubarak to Torah prison in Cairo, where other ex-officials on trial are held.
"He's no longer a president and should be treated like anyone accused of a crime. We want public trials. We want to see Mubarak in court," said Ismail Gamal, 23, a member the People Committee to Protect the Revolution.
Mubarak's health has been subject to frequent speculation. His lawyer says he is suffering from cancer and, on Sunday, said he fell into a coma. State media, citing the hospital director and other officials, denied this and said he was stable.
The army says trying Mubarak and other officials is a legal issue in the hands of the judiciary and the Justice Ministry and denies any role in the course of the trial or its location.
"Where the trial is held is up to the Justice Ministry not the armed forces," an army source told Reuters.
Analysts say the trial was an embarrassment for officers.
"There is definitely a personal crisis for top army generals putting their commander-in-chief on trial. But Mubarak is not just any president. People revolted against his rule and so there is no way out of trying him," analyst Safwat Zayaat said.
A security source, who like others declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue, said the Red Sea resort could well be the location for the trial because it would avoid problems of policing the trial in Cairo.
"Transferring Mubarak to Cairo for the trial would be very difficult logistically and a security nightmare if not a health hazard for the aging former president," security source said.
Trials of other former officials have sometimes drawn protests. Demonstrators hurled stones at police cars during a trial session of the hated ex-Interior Minister Habib al-Adli.
Egypt has started televising trials of Mubarak's former officials live in response to demands for greater transparency. Analysts said that, if Mubarak's trial was moved, broadcasting sessions from the location might help assuage public anger.
Mubarak is due to stand trial with his two sons, Alaa and Gamal, who was once seen as a president-in-waiting. They face the same charges. A prominent businessman Hussein Salem, who is now in Spain, was charged and was due to stand trial too.
"Media will be allowed to attend the trial but whether Mubarak will be present or not depends on his health situation," a second security source said, adding that Mubarak's sons were expected to be present.
(Editing by Edmund Blair)