© Ben Curtis/APIn this photo from November 2010 an Egyptian man shouts in front of posters branding Ahmed Ezz a 'loser, loser, loser'. The Mubarak ally is in court on corruption charges
Three stalwarts of the deposed Egyptian president are greeted by angry crowd at courthouse

Three former stalwarts of Hosni Mubarak's regime have appeared in a Cairo court to face charges ranging from abuse of state power to squandering public wealth.

The trio - former housing minister Ahmed Maghrapi, former tourism minister Zuheir Garana and Ahmed Ezz, steel tycoon and one-time secretary general of Hosni Mubarak's NDP party - arrived in police cars clanging with the sound of pelted stones and got out at the courthouse to a chorus of deafening insults.

"Here are the thieves!" yelled some members of the angry crowd; "Liars! Dogs!" taunted others. Inside, the defendants, clad in plain white jail uniforms, were forced to stand in a metal cage.

Their appearance came after Egypt's ruling army generals widened their corruption investigations to include two dozen other former regime stalwarts, from prominent politicians to leading lights of the business world.

"The supreme council of the armed forces strongly believes that freedom and the rule of law, supporting values of equality, democracy, social justice and uprooting corruption are the basis of any ruling system in the world," said a military statement.

The armed forces are walking a tricky tightrope in post-Mubarak Egypt, trying to balance the generals' desire for stability with an explosion of ground-level political and economic expectations that has penetrated every corner of the country.

Critics of the military argue that stability is merely a byword for maintaining the status quo. The army's stance on the prosecution of Mubarak regime officials is seen as a litmus test for the generals' promises of reform.

Travel bans have been placed on the former prime minister Ahmed Nazif, former culture minister Farouk Hosni and former information minister Anas al-Fiqi.

Many Egyptians hold al-Fiqi personally responsible for much of the deadly violence in the early days of the revolution because he is believed to have been behind the spread of misinformation about pro-change protesters.

Hundreds of thousands of people are planning to gather again in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Friday to mark the one-month anniversary of the protests that toppled the president. Concern is mounting over whether the army will offer up anything more than a few sacrificial lambs to appease a public desperate to see Mubarak's regime held to account.

"I will not be a scapegoat," cried Ahmed Maghrapi from behind bars as his trial session got under way.

Political analyst Nabil Abdel Fattah said: "These are the obvious faces of corruption, the figureheads at the top of the dictatorship that we all recognise from TV and revile." He said corruption investigations targeting Maghrapi and his cronies were being motivated by political considerations, not through principled pursuit of justice.

"Of course Ezz, Maghrapi and [former interior minister] Habib al-Adly must stand trial, but where are the others, the lesser-known individuals who were the backbone of the regime?" Fatah asked.

"Those in the state media complex, those who built and operated the brutal police apparatus, those who inspired sectarian violence, those who pretended to represent Egyptian citizens in parliament whilst using their positions to steal from them.

"Throwing a few famous but marginal superstars into court is not enough - we need a systematic, transparent investigation into everyone who benefited from Mubarak's rule."

Among those who have been spared the attention of the courts is the Mubarak family.

On Wednesday Egyptian authorities finally requested a freeze on Mubarak's extensive international assets. However the Guardian has learned that the current government was made aware of possible illicit wealth appropriation by the Mubaraks more than a week ago, when a committee of highly respected legal experts included the former president and his sons on a list of suspect individuals whose fortunes needed to be investigated.

Egypt's ministry of foreign affairs decided to remove the Mubaraks from the list before passing it on to European allies, potentially giving the family more time to reroute and hide its wealth. Mubarak himself remains closeted in a sumptuous villa in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh and no attempt has been made to arrest him.

"Egyptians will be furious," said Mohamed El-Dahsan, an economist and blogger who followed the anti-government uprising closely.

"In Tahrir Square one of the constant refrains you heard was 'we want our money back'. The corruption of the Mubarak family really struck a chord with people, and the more procrastination they see on that front, the angrier they will be. The financial looting of the country has not been forgiven and any unwillingness to retrieve those assets on the part of the current authorities won't be forgiven either."