CAIRO: Egypt’s former autocrat Hosni Mubarak was flown from jail Thursday in a symbolic victory for an army-dominated old order that has overthrown and imprisoned his freely elected Islamist successor.
A blue-and-white helicopter took Mubarak from Cairo’s Tora prison, where scores of his supporters had gathered to hail his release. He was flown to a military hospital in the nearby southern suburb of Maadi, officials said.
“He protected the country,” said Lobna Mohammad, a housewife in the crowd of Mubarak well-wishers. “He is a good man, but we want [Abdel-Fattah] al-Sisi now,” she said, referring to the army commander who overthrew Islamist Mohammad Morsi on July 3.
For Mubarak’s enemies, the moment marked a reversal of the Jan. 2011 pro-democracy uprising that brought him down after three decades in power as one of the pillars of authoritarian rule in the Middle East.
But some Egyptians, many of whom have rallied behind the army’s decision to depose Morsi, expressed fondness for the 85-year-old former air force commander whose tight grip on power brought stability.
Judicial authorities had ordered Mubarak’s release from Tora. His lawyer and other sources said earlier that his first destination would be an upscale hospital northeast of Cairo.
The premier’s office has said Mubarak will be put under house arrest.
That decision was made under a monthlong state of emergency declared last week when police stormed protest camps set up in Cairo by deposed leader Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood to call for his reinstatement.
According to official sources, about 900 people, including some 100 soldiers and police, have been killed in violence across Egypt since then, making it the bloodiest bout of internal strife in the country’s modern history as a republic. The Brotherhood says the toll is even higher. Most of the victims were gunned down by security forces.
In the latest violence, gunmen in a car killed an army major and a soldier near the Suez Canal city of Ismailia, security sources said. Two soldiers were wounded. The assailants escaped.
Mubarak 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 in the case, for which he has already served the maximum amount of pretrial detention. Mubarak was arrested in April 2011.
This week, two court rulings in separate corruption cases removed the last legal grounds for his continued detention, although he will not be allowed to leave Egypt and his assets remain frozen.At the Maadi hospital where he was taken, there were few signs of extra security apart from three police cars parked around the corner. Soldiers guarded the main gate, across a tree-lined boulevard from a Nile restaurant and boat club.
Patients and visitors on foot and in cars came and went from the white- and green-painted medical complex which resembles a beach hotel, with palm trees and landscaped gardens.
At the prison he left behind, Mohammad Hussein, a 36-year-old jobless man waiting outside to visit a jailed relative, said: “We love Mubarak.” His sister Fatheya chimed in: “Isn’t it enough that for 30 years he did not drag us into a war, and let us live in dignity?”
A brief commotion occurred when the daughter of a jailed Brotherhood leader, Khairat al-Shater, berated journalists awaiting Mubarak’s release. “Why are you waiting for Mubarak?” Khadija al-Shater asked. “We Islamists are in jail in there.”
As several Egyptian journalists shouted at her to answer for the deaths of police officers in the unrest, she said she had been denied access to her imprisoned father. Asked if he had seen a lawyer, she told Reuters: “His lawyer is in jail.”
Mubarak’s release plays into the Brotherhood’s argument that the military is trying to rehabilitate the old order. The army-installed government casts its conflict with the Islamist movement as a life-or-death struggle against terrorism.
Political upheaval has gripped Egypt since Morsi’s removal by the army on July 3, just over a year after he was elected.
The military’s declared plan for a return to democracy has yet to calm the most populous Arab nation, where security forces impose a nightly curfew as they hunt down Brotherhood leaders.
The clampdown appears to have weakened the Arab world’s oldest and arguably most influential Islamist group, which won five successive votes in Egypt in the two-and-a-half years since Mubarak fell.
The Brotherhood’s ability to stage pro-Morsi demonstrations has faded in the past few days. One of its spokesmen, Ahmad Aref, was arrested Thursday, the state news agency reported.
Brotherhood supporters have nevertheless called on Egyptians to hold marches on the weekly Muslim prayer day, billed as a “Friday of Martyrs,” against the army takeover.
A pro-Morsi alliance called the National Coalition to Support Legitimacy said: “We will remain steadfast on the road to defeating the military coup.”