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 protests 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 said in comments to 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 13 percent of Egyptians view Mubarak favorably, some retain sympathy for him.

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.

Also Saturday, the Muslim Brotherhood said that it would contest half the seats in parliament in elections scheduled for September, as it formally announced the formation of a new political party, Freedom and Justice, wire services reported. The step had been expected.

The Muslim Brotherhood is the most powerful organization in the country after Mubarak spent decades quashing most potential sources of opposition. Although the movement was officially banned during his rule, members could function on a limited basis, including running for political office as independents.

Muslim Brotherhood leaders have said they do not plan to field a candidate for president in a November ballot.

Mansour is a special correspondent.