Egypt's ex-president Mubarak may be freed soon

8:53 PM, Aug 19, 2013   |    comments
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CAIRO -- Former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, who ruled Egypt for three decades before his ouster in 2011, could be released from prison this week, according to his lawyer and judicial sources.

The stunning twist in the Egyptian saga comes against a backdrop of more violence, including the death Monday of 25 policemen in the north Sinai desert.

The Egyptian president, who was ousted from power in February 2011, could soon be released from detention within two days after being cleared of corruption charges, according to judicial officials who spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

He is still being retried for charges related to the killing of hundreds of protesters during his overthrow. But he can't be held anymore since there is two-year limit pending a final verdict for the case, which began in August 2011, the AP reported.

"All we have left is a simple administrative procedure that should take no more than 48 hours," Mubarak's lawyer, Fareed El-Deeb, told Reuters. "He should be freed by the end of the week."

Separately, The New York Times , citing state media, reported via Twitter that judicial authorities and security officials in the nation have ordered Mubarak's release.

"Mubarak is just the icing on the cake and it shows what we're seeing is a restoration of the old order, and probably worse than that," said Shadi Hamid, director of research for the Brookings Doha Center.

The army, he said, isn't even pretending to uphold revolutionary ideals and support the democratic process that Egyptians sought when they overthrew Mubarak two years ago.They're "not even going through the motions," he said.

The release of Mubarak, if it comes, will represent a jarring shift from the days when Egyptians crowded around their TVs in awe to see their once-impervious leader in a courtroom, behind bars, just months after his ouster. It was a moving moment for the Arab world as people embraced hope for justice.

A year later, in 2012, the country held its first democratic presidential election, voting in the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi. It was also a stark shift from decades when many Islamists faced a repressive security system.

A sizable chunk of the interim government appointed since Morsi's ouster is made up of Mubarak-era figures, and signs indicate the government could exclude the Brotherhood from the current political transition.

Many Egyptians support the new leadership and applaud Al-Sisi as a heroic figurehead, undeterred that the political shift signifies a return to old order.

"The Egyptian public opinion is extremely mollified and it changes its attitude at a very high speed," said political analyst Mazen Hassan in Cairo.

Even many diehard activists who spurred the campaign against Mubarak, before taking on the group of ruling army generals who temporarily replaced him, supported Al-Sisi's intervention. There was no other way to oust Morsi, they said.

Still, Mubarak's release would be "something terrible," said Amal Sharaf, an activist with the April 6 Youth Movement, a group vital to the uprising against Mubarak. "We're back three years now" if Mubarak released from jail.

"But the thing is that we don't have many solutions, many choices," she said. "We have to fight terrorism by any means. Now people don't think about anything except fighting terrorism in Egypt."

"Terrorism" is how the military-backed government and its supporters describe the actions of Islamists who oppose its rule. Authorities cleared two major pro-Morsi protests camps in the capital last week after saying they threatened national security: The protesters were blocking roads and harboring arms, the government said.

Amnesty International, a human rights watchdog, found evidence indicating Morsi supporters tortured political opponents. And once the protests were cleared, officials found "a big quantity of arms, live ammunition and Molotov cocktail bottles" at the sites of the sit-ins, the government said in a statement.

In retaliation for the ongoing crackdown that has led to many Brotherhood arrests and hundreds of deaths, dozens of churches and security posts were attacked.On Monday, 25 policemen were killed in the north Sinai peninsula. Militants forced the security personnel out of two mini-buses, forced them to lie on the ground and then shot them, security officials told the AP.

It is unclear to what extent Mubarak's release could fuel more backlash against the state.

"If he remains silent, which would be the best behavior, then nothing major will pass," Hassan said. "But if he gives interviews and make pubic statements ... ll sorts of implications will surface."

If Mubarak stays quiet "people might forget about this," Hassan said.

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