Egypt: Mubarak's release adds more turmoil
23 August 2013, 13:16
Cairo - Egypt's toppled dictator Hosni Mubarak was
transferred from prison to house arrest at a military hospital on Thursday, in
a move overshadowed by a blistering crackdown against his Islamist successors.
The former strongman, forced to quit in early 2011, was
flown by medical helicopter to a military hospital, where he will remain under
house arrest as he stands trial on corruption and murder charges.
His ouster in 2011 was a pivotal moment in regional democratic
upheavals that in Egypt led to an Islamist government, which lasted a year
before a popularly backed military coup last month.
In other circumstances, the 85-year-old's removal from
prison might have caused shockwaves.
But with Egypt mired in a deadly conflict between the
military-installed government and Islamists, Mubarak's transfer took place amid
little fanfare or protest.
He was ordered released after his lawyer argued Mubarak's
stay in prison had exceeded the maximum pre-verdict detention, and Mubarak made
financial amends for one of his charges.
He still faces trial for corruption and his role in the
deaths of protesters during the uprising that toppled him, with his next
hearing on Sunday.
Prime Minister Hazem al-Beblawi, empowered with the
authority to order arrests under the current state of emergency, ordered
Mubarak to be placed under house arrest after release from jail.
Mubarak chose to be held at the military hospital, the
official MENA news agency reported.
The decision to grant Mubarak pre-trial release added a
volatile new element to the political turmoil that has gripped Egypt since the
army ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi on July 3 following massive
protests against him.
More than 1 000 people have been killed in the past week in
violence following the forcible break-up of two pro-Morsi camps in the capital.
Authorities have arrested dozens of members of Morsi's
Muslim Brotherhood, including its supreme guide Mohamed Badie - the first time
the group's chief has been arrested since 1981.
Morsi himself is being held at a secret location and faces
charges related to his 2011 escape from prison and inciting the death and
torture of protesters.
The juxtaposition between the fates of the two ousted
presidents, Mubarak and Morsi, is notable, analyst Hisham Kassem said.
Mubarak "committed numerous crimes... against the
country, but managed to hide the evidence, particularly as all the state's
institutions were working for him at the time he was overthrown".
"The opposite is true for Morsi, who was thrown in
prison while all the state's apparatus were against him."
Police and soldiers
Arrests of Brotherhood leaders continued, with authorities
detaining Ahmed Aref, a spokesperson for the group, in Cairo.
Despite the pressure, a Brotherhood-led coalition has
defiantly called for mass rallies on Friday, in a test of its support following
Egypt has experienced unprecedented political bloodletting
since 14 August, when security forces stormed two pro-Morsi protest camps in
The crackdown and resulting violence across the country
killed nearly 600 people in a single day, the bloodiest in Egypt's recent
Islamists have been accused of torching and attacking dozens
of Christian churches, schools, businesses and homes - mostly in the rural
south - accusing Egypt's sizable Coptic minority of backing Morsi's ouster.
On Thursday, Human Rights Watch condemned the government for
failing to protect churches, but also the Brotherhood for failing to halt incitement
Violence has also targeted police and soldiers, including
two who were killed in a drive-by shooting near the Suez Canal town of Ismailia
The unrest has prompted international criticism, and EU
foreign ministers agreed at an emergency meeting Wednesday to suspend the sale
of arms and security equipment to Cairo in response to the mounting violence.
They issued a statement calling recent security operations
"disproportionate", while also condemning "acts of terrorism"
in the Sinai and the church attacks.
But they expressed concern over the economic situation and
said "assistance in the socio-economic sector and to civil society will
Annual defence aid
The United States has also criticised the violence, as well
as Badie's arrest, and announced the cancellation of joint military exercises.
But it has stopped short of halting its $1.3bn annual
defence aid package to Egypt, and denied reports it was withholding aid.
Washington on Thursday also sidestepped questions about
Mubarak's release, saying it was a matter for Cairo to decide, but called for
Morsi to be freed.
"With respect to the Mubarak trial and decisions made,
this is an internal Egyptian legal matter," said State Department spokesperson
"Our position on Mr Morsi remains the same. We believe
there should be a process for his release," Psaki said.
Reporters had for days asked the State Department to comment
on the seemingly paradoxical situation of the two leaders.
Oil-rich Saudi Arabia, which backs the army-installed
interim government, has said it would step in with other Arab nations to fill
any funding gap if Washington halts aid.
Meanwhile, a Hamas official said Egypt was set to reopen the
Rafah border crossing with the Gaza Strip daily from Saturday after closing it
in the wake of last week's bloodshed.