CAIRO: Deposed Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak will leave prison as early as Thursday after a court ruling that jolted a divided nation already in turmoil seven weeks after the army toppled Islamist President Mohammad Morsi.
Convening Wednesday at the Cairo prison where Mubarak is held, the court ordered the release of the military man who ruled Egypt for 30 years until he was overthrown during the uprisings that swept the Arab world in early 2011.
When asked, Fareed al-Deeb, Mubarak’s lawyer told Reuters Mubarak could be freed Thursday.
Mubarak, 85, was sentenced to life in prison last year for failing to prevent the killing of demonstrators. But a court accepted his appeal earlier this year and ordered a retrial.
The ailing ex-president probably has no political future, but some Egyptians were indignant at the court ruling, which state prosecutor Ahmad al-Bahrawi said could not be appealed.
“The army has brought back Mubarak’s regime, the same regime,” said Guma Abdel-Alim, outside a bicycle shop in central Cairo.
“Those who were elected by the people are now in prison.”
He was referring to a widescale security sweep on Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood that has netted many of its leaders.
Shopworker Rubi Abdel-Azim said Mubarak had been the worst ruler in Egypt’s history, but a passerby in a worn-out shirt disagreed. “He was the greatest president,” said Nagi Hasan.
Political turbulence has kept Egypt on edge for months. At least 900 people, including 100 soldiers and police, have been killed in a crackdown on Morsi supporters in the past week, making it the country’s bloodiest internal episode in decades.
The Brotherhood has said it would never abandon efforts to restore Morsi to power, although a fierce state security crackdown appears to have hurt the group. In the past week, it has struggled to get people on the streets to protest.
Morsi’s supporters called on Egyptians to hold “Friday of Martyrs” protests against the military takeover that ousted him.
A grouping calling itself The National Coalition to Support Legitimacy, which has been demanding Morsi’s reinstatement, said in a statement: “We will remain steadfast on the road to defeating the military coup.”
The United States and the European Union are both reviewing aid to Cairo in light of the bloodshed, but Saudi Arabia has promised to make up any shortfall.
The European Union stopped short of agreeing immediate cuts in financial or military assistance to Cairo, as the bloc’s foreign ministers held emergency talks Wednesday to find ways to help bring an end to violence in Egypt.
The decision acknowledges Europe’s limited economic muscle in forcing Egypt’s army-backed rulers and Morsi’s supporters into a peaceful compromise.
It also reflects a concern that abruptly cutting aid could shut dialogue with Cairo’s military rulers and damage Europe’s ability to mediate in any future negotiations to end Egypt’s strife.
There was no immediate reaction to the ruling on Mubarak from the Brotherhood, whose leaders are mostly behind bars.
Mubarak is still being retried on charges of complicity in the killing of protesters during the revolt against him, but he has already served the maximum pretrial detention in that case.
The court ruling removed the last legal ground for his imprisonment in connection with a corruption case, following a similar decision in another corruption case Monday. Mubarak will not be allowed to leave Egypt and his assets remain frozen.Mubarak’s two sons, Gamal and Alaa, along with former Interior Minister Habib al-Adly, are still in prison.
Some of the liberal and secular politicians who backed the army’s ousting of Morsi on July 3 said they regretted Mubarak’s release but the judiciary’s decision should be respected.
“His regime was lousy and he destroyed the country,” said Mohammad Abolghar, head of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, to which the army-appointed interim prime minister belongs.
Noting Mubarak’s age and the prison time he has served, he said: “We should focus on building the country, establishing democracy and finishing the problem of the Muslim Brotherhood.
“The government knows that if Mubarak is freed there will be public outrage, but a court decision is a court decision.”
Khaled Dawoud, spokesman of the liberal Dostour Party, said that the trials of the ex-president and his associates had all been flawed because the judiciary was ill-equipped to deal with cases related to Mubarak’s rule, resulting in a series of acquittals.
“It was a faulty process from the beginning,” he said.
The relatively muted response from Mubarak’s non-Islamist opponents may reflect a reluctance to rock the boat following the army’s removal of Morsi, which they had endorsed.
The generals say they were responding to the will of the people after vast demonstrations organized by liberals and leftists demanding Morsi’s ouster. They have installed an interim administration to oversee a roadmap back to democracy.
The authorities now portray their quarrel with the Brotherhood, as a fight against terrorism and are jailing its leaders. They detained the group’s “general guide,” Mohammad Badie, in Cairo Tuesday.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which along with Kuwait have promised Egypt $12 billion in aid since Morsi’s ouster, have frowned on Mubarak’s detention all along. Arab diplomats said the conservative Gulf monarchies had lobbied for the release of a man they once valued as a strong regional ally.
Mubarak’s jailing and trial, when he appeared in a courtroom cage, also affronted some Egyptian officers. One colonel, who asked not to be identified, said the treatment of the former supreme military commander had “tarnished the army’s image.”
The United States said Tuesday that the crackdown on protesters could influence U.S. aid. It denied reports it had already suspended assistance.
At issue is the future of about $1.23 billion in U.S. military assistance and $241 million in economic aid.
Western nations were uneasy during Morsi’s year in power, when he rammed through an Islamist-tinged constitution.
Washington has not denounced the army takeover as a “coup,” which under U.S. law would force a suspension of aid. The ensuing bloodshed, however, has dismayed the West.
U.S. Senator John McCain, a former Republican presidential nominee, said Wednesday: “The slaughter of hundreds of Egyptians in the street is appalling to all of us.”
He said U.S. aid should be conditioned on a change in the constitution and scheduling of elections as soon as possible. “The present government is representative of no one,” he said.