CAIRO – Egypt’s ousted president, Hosni Mubarak, could face the death penalty if he is convicted of ordering security forces to kill protesters during the January and February demonstrations that led to his resignation, the justice minister said Saturday, although many here questioned whether that step would ever be carried out.

Mubarak has been detained in a hospital since early April while he is questioned about the deaths. He and his two sons, who are in a prison on the outskirts of Cairo, are also being investigated for corruption.

At least 846 people died during the protests, according to a government report released in April.

“The crime of killing demonstrators could lead him to the death penalty if he is proven guilty,” Justice Minister Mohammed al-Guindi told the state-owned al-Ahram newspaper.

But many doubted that Mubarak, 82, would be put to death. Although a Pew poll released last week found that only 13 percent of Egyptians view Mubarak favorably, some retain sympathy for him.

Al-Guindi said that the only person who could pardon Mubarak if he were sentenced to death is Egypt’s next president. He said that if he were president, he would not pardon Mubarak.