JEFFREY BROWN: And we return to the epic drama still unfolding in Egypt, as its longtime leader goes on trial.
Margaret Warner has the story.
MARGARET WARNER: Nearly six months after being toppled by the people he ruled for 30 years, Hosni Mubarak, lying on a hospital gurney, was wheeled into a custom-made defendant's cage today, the first Arab leader brought to court by his countrymen in the Arab spring.
He's charged with corruption and with presiding over the killing of nearly 900 protesters during the 18-day uprising that brought his resignation in February. Despite reports of feeble health, the 83-year-old Mubarak responded firmly to questions from the presiding judge in a court session held at a police academy on Cairo's outskirts.
JUDGE (through translator): Mohammed Hosni al-Sayyid Mubarak...
HOSNI MUBARAK, former Egyptian president (through translator): Sir, I am present.
JUDGE (through translator): You have heard the charges brought to you by the public prosecution. What do you say?
HOSNI MUBARAK (through translator): I deny all these accusations completely.
MARGARET WARNER: In the cage with him, his sons Gamal and Alaa, and his former interior minister, Habib al-Adly, who ran the despised state security forces.
Leila Fadel of The Washington Post was in the courtroom today.
LEILA FADEL, The Washington Post: He actually seemed quite healthy. He was brought in on a hospital bed, but he was alert. He was awake. He was having conversations with his son. His hair is still jet-black, obviously dyed, so he's been keeping up his grooming.
And he didn't not as sickly as we expected. But, outside of the academy, there were large protests of both pro-Mubarak and anti-Mubarak protesters that ended up clashing over the passions that obviously boiled over today about the Mubarak trial.
MARGARET WARNER: Nader Ashraf outside the courtroom left little doubt as to where he stood.
NADER ASHRAF, Egypt (through translator): Mubarak should have been hanged on the first day of the trial.
MARGARET WARNER: Since Mubarak left office, the revolutionaries who forced his ouster have demanded he stand trial for three decades of repressive rule. But many feared the Military Council now running Egypt would protect the former air force commander.
LEILA FADEL: A lot of Egyptians saw all this as a moment, a turning point, especially with the military leadership being questioned more and more about whether they were willing to do this. So many people had doubted that it would happen at all, until the last minute.
MARGARET WARNER: Today, in Tahrir Square, the mistrust was still there.
ABDULAH MOHAMAD, Egypt (through translator): I think this trial is the beginning of a farce, because we expect that Mubarak will never go to jail, and this is an attempt by the military council to calm public opinion.
MARGARET WARNER: But the image of a caged and prone Mubarak was still stunning for many Egyptians, who sat transfixed by live television coverage.
LEILA FADEL: Most Egyptians have been waiting for this moment, to see the person they feel is accountable for 30 years of corruption and torture and abuses in this situation. But I think also it was a little bit shocking for some. And even if didn't support Mubarak in the past, they felt that it was humiliating moment for him, and some felt sorry for him, sympathetic towards him.
Many agree on fact that he was a harsh dictator. At this point, they are divided on whether or not to go ahead with a trial that will publicly chastise him and possibly end in the death penalty. And others are just willing to forget. They don't want to see him publicly humiliated. They don't want to see him in a jumpsuit behind bars.
MARGARET WARNER: Late today, Mubarak was returned to detention in a military hospital, and his sons to prison. They're due back in court Aug. 15.