Deposed dictator Hosni Mubarak, who ruled Egypt for 29 years, was released from prison on Thursday in the latest twist in Egypt’s roiling political crisis, and the country braced for fresh protests on Friday against the military’s ouster last month of his elected successor.
Supporters of Mohammed Morsi, who remains in army custody in an undisclosed location, called for a “Friday of martyrs” of mass demonstrations, risking more potential bloodshed to show they can still claim the streets after a week that saw hundreds gunned down and the Muslim Brotherhood’s leaders jailed in the worst political violence in the country’s modern history.
Mr. Mubarak’s re-emergence in the public eye could be a spark that ignites the flames again.
“Mubarak is free, while free men are imprisoned,” an alliance backed by the Brotherhood said on Twitter.
In recent days, though, protests that once attracted tens of thousands of people across the country have ebbed, suggesting the group’s famed organizational strength may have been damaged by the fierce crackdown. More Brotherhood leaders were arrested on Thursday and security forces were out in force in major Egyptian cities.
While public criticism of the military is rare in the wake of the violence, some activists who supported the ouster of Mr. Morsi have started to express concerns on social media that the political freedoms won in the revolution are in danger. Planned amendments to the constitution, reported in local media this week, appear designed to place limits on political parties and ease restrictions on the participation of Mubarak-era officials in politics.
Mr. Mubarak was transferred to a military hospital in a Cairo suburb, where the army-installed interim government ordered him held under house arrest.
He was convicted last year for failing to prevent the killing of demonstrators during the 2011 revolution that drove him from power. 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. He still faces charges of corruption and complicity in those killings.
Some observers question whether Mr. Mubarak will ultimately remain in Egypt, where his presence would be a provocative and potentially explosive reminder of the pre-revolutionary order. Other Arab dictators deposed in the hopeful fervour of the Arab Spring have gone into exile.
“This is a guy who was facing the gallows,” said David Schenker, an Arab politics expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “But will he stay in Egypt?”
While a small crowd of people gathered at the Tora prison to cheer for Mr. Mubarak as he was flown out by military helicopter, the overall response on the streets was muted.
“People don’t want Mubarak to get out,” said Mohammed Abou Zeid Ali, who owns a small shop not far from Tahrir Square, the focal point of the uprising 21/2 years ago against the long-serving autocrat. “He killed so many people during the revolution.”
Taxi driver Mohammed Mostafa disagreed as he whipped through Cairo’s quieting streets in the hours before a state-imposed curfew. Mr. Mubarak should be freed, he said, because he is growing old “and we must not forget what he did for Egypt.”
Mindful of Egypt’s economic morass and the political conflicts that have divided the country, others recalled Mr. Mubarak’s rule with fondness, saying he maintained stability and security that have disintegrated in the 30 months since his ouster.
“Mubarak,” said Mohammed Bedoui, another Cairo resident, “was the big boss.”