Egyptian court orders Mubarak released from prison

CAIRO —Former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak could leave prison as early as Wednesday night, government officials and legal experts said, after a Cairo court ordered the release of the deposed autocrat who ruled Egypt for three decades.Mubarak’s release would constitute a dramatic blow to the broad protest movement that forced his removal from office in February 2011. It would also lend credibility to the Islamist opposition’s claims that the old regime is reasserting itself following a July 3 military coup that ousted Mohamed Morsi, the country’s first democratically elected president. Egyptian security services in recent weeks have launched a deadly crackdown against Morsi’s allies.

The Egyptian prosecutor’s office said Mubarak would remain on the country’s no-fly list and that his assets would remain frozen.Mubarak’s release was ordered by an Egyptian court Wednesday after the 85-year-old former air force commander agreed to return or pay the value of gifts he received from state news organizations while in office, a spokesman for Egypt’s Foreign Ministry said.

It was the last of three cases brought against Mubarak since he was ousted from power in the Arab Spring uprising. Judicial authorities accepted Mubarak’s appeals for a retrial on earlier charges of corruption and killing protesters during the uprising. Other charges related to the renovation of the presidential palace were dismissed earlier for lack of evidence.

“According to our penal code, you cannot detain a person for more than two years, without indicting him,” said Badr Abdellaty, a spokesman for Egypt’s Foreign Ministry.

“So he can stay at home,” Abdellaty said, and go from there to court for his retrials.

The Egyptian prosecutor’s office, part of a judiciary that critics have long accused of being stacked with Mubarak allies, said Wednesday that it would not appeal the case’s dismissal. Legal experts said Mubarak could leave Cairo’s Tora prison within hours.

“The prosecution has no legal ground to appeal the decision of his release, as Mubarak paid the money he took, and has no legal ground for his detention,” said Yassir Mohammad Sayyid Ahmad, an attorney representing families of Egyptians killed by Mubarak’s security forces during the 18-day uprising in 2011, in which more than 800 people died.

Also Wednesday, Egyptian security forces arrested a prominent Islamist cleric as he tried to flee the country. Safwat Hegazy, who has been charged with inciting violence, was nabbed by police in the oasis town of Siwa, near the Libyan border, Foreign Ministry spokesman Abdellaty said.

Abdellaty said Hegazy had shaved off all his hair, leaving just a goatee, and had “even changed the color of his hair.”

Abdellaty said that one high-ranking official from the Muslim Brotherhood, Mahmoud Ezzat, was known to have successfully left the country. The state has thrown most of the group’s top officials in jail, holding them virtually incommunicado under a host of charges that the group says are politically motivated.

Other prominent Islamist leaders have been on the run from a sweeping nationwide crackdown that has intensified since a brutal August 14 raid on two pro-Morsi protest camps in Cairo.

Some of those who participated in Egypt’s Arab Spring revolt that began on Jan. 25, 2011, were appalled by the news.

“It’s the end of the 25th of January revolution,” said Walid Ibrahim, 29, a bookstore worker in downtown Cairo who had joined the mass demonstrations two years ago. “The 25th of January revolution was against the Mubarak regime. The problem with [the revolt] is that it didn’t topple the regime, just the head of it.”

“It seems we have been dreaming for three years,” said a bookstore colleague walking by, Mahmoud Mohammed, 31. “We have woken up and found ourselves exactly where we were three years ago.”

But several other Egyptians said they were too focused on the current political crisis to get upset about Mubarak, whose abuses have faded in the popular memory.

“We here in Egypt believe Mubarak is a closed case. It’s done. What really matters to people are things that affect day-to-day life,” said Mohammed el-Laban, 43, a chauffeur sitting at an outdoor café. “The main feeling for all Egyptians is confusion and worry” about newer political developments.

European Union foreign ministers agreed Wednesday to temporarily suspend exports to Egypt of “any equipment used for internal repression,” E.U. foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton told reporters in Brussels after the meeting.

But the suspension will have little practical effect, since Europe’s major arms exporting countries have already put shipments on hold. The foreign ministers stopped short of a wider-ranging halt to civilian aid to Egypt, a cutoff that many of the ministers said would only harm ordinary Egyptians.

Mary Beth Sheridan in Cairo and Michael Birnbaum in Berlin contributed to this report.

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