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Egypt in turmoil: Court orders Mubarak release

The move could signal a return to the era of Mubarak's autocratic rule, thwarting gains made in 2011’s Arab Spring, when mass revolts in favor of democracy swept the Middle East and North Africa.
/ Source: MSNBC TV

The move could signal a return to the era of Mubarak's autocratic rule, thwarting gains made in 2011’s Arab Spring, when mass revolts in favor of democracy swept the Middle East and North Africa.

Egypt’s ousted President Hosni Mubarak sits inside a dock at the police academy on the outskirts of Cairo, in this file picture taken April 15, 2013. (Photo by Reuters)

An Egyptian court on Wednesday ordered Hosni Mubarak, the former president whose rule incited decades of poverty, brutality, and repression in Egypt, to be released from prison—possibly within the next 48 hours.

The court’s decision, along with increasing violence in Egypt and the exclusion of Muslim Brotherhood members from government leadership, all underscore how the interim regime—headed by General Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, Mubarak’s former head of military intelligence—is showing signs of a return to the authoritarian rule that sparked the landmark Arab Spring protests in 2011.

“The crackdown that has happened against the Muslim Brotherhood has been relatively popular on the streets of Cairo,” said NBC Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel Wednesday. “And it seems now if Mubarak gets out, you’re not going to see a massive angry reaction like we would have a few years ago.”

Mubarak, whose autocratic hand spurred uprisings ultimately resulting in Egypt’s first democratic election, has been detained and entangled in legal proceedings since his 2011 ouster. His successor, the democratically-elected Mohamed Morsi, is currently being detained after a July 3 uprising forced him out of office. Violence has consumed Egypt since he was removed from office. Around one thousand people have been killed, and thousands more were wounded, after the military-backed leadership seized on Muslim Brotherhood supporters protesting for Morsi’s reinstatement.

“It’s amazing how the pendulum of history can switch,” Engel reported from Cairo on MSNBC Wednesday. “The world, the United States, was with the protesters who were on the streets [in 2011]. Then the Muslim Brotherhood came to power here, governed so badly, and many Egyptians and other countries turned against them.”

A Cairo court cleared Mubarak of charges in a corruption case Monday, paving the way for his release save for one remaining charge. The court on Wednesday reviewed a petition for Mubarak’s release, clearing him of a charge that he accepted gifts while in office (he previously repaid an amount equivalent to the gifts’ value). The prosecution said Wednesday it would not appeal the court’s decision to release him.

Though Mubarak is expected to leave Cairo’s Tora prison, where he has served time since the 2011 uprising that ended his rule, he will remain in Egypt in adherence with a travel ban. A judicial source at Egypt’s general prosecutor’s office told NBC News that Mubarak’s assets remain frozen.

The deposed leader has been sentenced to life in prison for failing to protect protesters in the 2011 uprising; his lawyers have ordered a retrial. He is scheduled to appear in court on August 25.

The Obama administration has stayed largely on the sidelines of the recent Egyptian crisis, with Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel saying Monday that “our ability to influence the outcome in Egypt is limited.”

Hagel echoed President Obama, who called for an end to the bloodshed in Egypt’s streets, but noted of the Egyptians, “It will be their responsibility to sort this out.”

The U.S.-Egyptian partnership is a cornerstone of American foreign policy in a region rocked by turbulence. Republican Senators including John McCain of Arizona, and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina—who traveled to Egypt earlier this month to urge cooperation between the military and the Muslim Brotherhood—have accused the U.S. of squandering leverage in the country by refusing to cancel more than $1 billion in Egyptian aid money. So far, Obama canceled an upcoming joint-military exercise.

Yasmina El Muslemany contributed to this report.