DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The live TV images of a caged and bedridden Hosni Mubarak being held to account for alleged crimes against his own people — by his own people — captivated viewers across the Middle East and appeared to many to be a powerful turning point in this year's uprisings.
Some hoped the trial, which began Wednesday in Cairo, would be the first of several bringing longtime autocrats to justice. Others weren't quite sure what to make of the spectacle, torn between a desire for justice and the discomfort of seeing a once-all-powerful Arab leader treated like a common criminal.
For many others from North Africa to the Persian Gulf, the trial carried a deeper meaning. It was, in the words of pastry shop owner Saif Mahmoud in Baghdad, a rewriting of the rules between the region's people and their leaders. That's because unlike Iraq's Saddam Hussein, who was captured by American forces, Mubarak was brought to court by his own people.
In the West Bank city of Ramallah, 29-year-old Palestinian Salah Abu Samera saw emerging democracy.
"It's unusual in the Arab world," he said. "This is the first time we see a leader in a real court. This is good for democracy, good for the future. We've always heard of leaders on trial in Israel, in Turkey, in the U.S., or Europe. But this is the first time in the Arab world."
Another Palestinian, retiree Mohammed Adnan, 64, described Mubarak's trial as a "huge move" for the region. He said the longtime Egyptian strongman never would have treated his people as he did had he headed a democratic country and knew he would be held accountable for his actions.
The trial especially resonated in countries where citizens are still agitating for change against their own longtime rulers.
Activists in Syria, where tanks and shellfire continued to hammer the opposition in the city of Hama, accused the regime of Bashar Assad of striking hard at a moment when world and media attention were distracted by Mubarak's trial.
In Egypt's next-door neighbor Libya, rebels concentrated in the east are fighting to try to oust Moammar Gadhafi, who has held power even longer than Mubarak did.
Mohamad al-Rajali, a spokesman for the rebels, said he welcomed the trial against Mubarak, who like Gadhafi was a military officer before taking power.
"We wish to see Gadhafi in a similar cage one day," al-Rajali said. He insisted the Libyan leader would have a fair trial if the rebels ever get hold of him "because we are a country of laws and we are against public executions."
Across the region, on the Persian Gulf island of Bahrain, state-run television aired a local tourism program as Mubarak's trial got under way. The tiny kingdom has been roiled by the Gulf's biggest protests, themselves inspired by uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia that eventually brought both countries' leaders down.
A Twitter feed used by activists involved in the Bahraini protest movement questioned the decision to keep the trial off the air.
"Bahrain TV promoting Bahrain tourism, ignoring broadcasting Mubarak's trial???" read one tweet in Arabic. Another read: "Mubarak's trial is a warning letter to other Arab regimes like Bahrain and (shows) people can one day take a brutal ruler and a corrupt regime to trial."
Sayed Ahmad, 29, an unemployed Bahraini, said he hoped his countrymen would learn from Egypt.
"I wished I were in the courtroom to shout loudly: 'Long live justice!'" he said. "Today is the beginning of the victory for the Egyptian revolution and (for the) martyrs who demanded pride and honor to achieve the rule of law."
Not everyone saw the courtroom drama as a step forward, however.
"The Mubarak trial today is a massive shame for the Arab world. For 30 years he served the people. ... They should have made him a statue of honor next to the Sphinx," said Hassan al-Masri, 45, from Gaza City.
He described Mubarak as a fighter and said a great leader for the Arabs "does not deserve to sit inside a cage like a criminal."
Mahmoud, the Iraqi pastry store owner, also criticized the way the Egyptian authorities dealt with Mubarak by bringing him into the courtroom on a hospital gurney.
"We know that he made mistakes since he took office, but authorities should have shown some respect to this leader ... instead of dealing with him in such a humiliating way," he said. "They should have waited until he can stand trial with an elegant suit, not lying on a stretcher."
Sultan al-Qassemi, 33, a widely followed Twitter user and columnist in the United Arab Emirates, voiced similar feelings. On one hand, he said he doesn't like seeing an elderly man being treated as Mubarak was, but on the other, he said he thinks of what kind of justice those killed in the uprising deserve.
"I almost wish he had stepped down earlier" so things wouldn't have come to this, he said.
But he added that Mubarak's fate should be left to his fellow countrymen. "It's not for me to say how it should proceed. ... In the end it's up to the Egyptians," al-Qassemi said.
Associated Press writers Dale Gavlak and Mohammad Hannon in Amman, Jordan; Sinan Salaheddin in Baghdad; Rami al-Shaheibi in Benghazi, Libya; Rizek Abdul Jawad in Gaza City, Gaza Strip; and Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank, contributed to this report.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.