Former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak will be placed under house arrest after he is released from prison, the Egyptian prime minister said Wednesday.
Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi announced in a statement that he ordered Mubarak put under house arrest, after a court ordered his release, as part of the emergency measures put in place this month. Prison officials said Mubarak may be released as early as Thursday.
The 85-year-old former president is still on trial on separate charges that could put him back behind bars. Meanwhile, the prospect of Mubarak freed, even if only temporarily, would feed into a larger crisis bedeviling Egypt. The violent fallout from the July 3 coup that unseated Mohammed Morsi, an Islamist who became Egypt's first freely elected president following Mubarak's ouster, could be exacerbated by the former leader's release.
The announcement of Mubarak’s release comes as Egyptian authorities ramped up their crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood by arresting two high-profile Islamist figures.
Egypt's state-run MENA news agency says Safwat Hegazy, a fiery Salafi preacher and top ally of the Brotherhood, was captured early Wednesday at a checkpoint near the Siwa Oasis, near Libya. He is wanted over charges of instigating violence.
According to the website of the state-run Al-Ahram daily, Hegazy had shaved off most of his beard, dyed his hair and covered his face with a niqab, a head-to-toe woman's dress that leaves only a slit for the eyes uncovered.
Hegazy was a key speaker at the main pro-Morsi sit-in that was dispersed by security troops last Wednesday in Cairo's Nasr City suburb. He told protesters to hold their ground and promised to deal blows to the military. He is wanted on charges of instigating deadly clashes last month with security forces outside a Republican Guard building that killed 54 people, most of them Morsi supporters.
Also, an Egyptian security official said Mourad Ali, a spokesman for the Brotherhood's political party, was detained at the Cairo airport while trying to catch a flight to Italy. The official said Ali's name was on the watch list in the airport for his involvement in the latest violence in Egypt. The official didn't elaborate.
They are the latest allies of President Mohammed Morsi, who hails from the Brotherhood, to be arrested. On Tuesday authorities detained the Brotherhood's supreme leader and spiritual guide, Mohammed Badie, dealing a serious blow to an embattled movement now struggling to keep up its protest campaign against the military's overthrow of Morsi and subsequent deadly assaults on pro-Morsi sit-ins.
Since his overthrow in February 2011, Hosni Mubarak has been on a roller coaster ride through the courts during which he has been convicted, only for another court to overturn the ruling, grant him a retrial and order him released. Still, he was kept behind bars pending retrial and on other charges.
For his first trial, on charges of corruption and conspiracy in the deadly shooting of nearly 900 protesters during the uprising against him, he was on a gurney behind prison cage bars and denied the charges. The first Arab leader to face trial by his own people, he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
Last January he was interrogated about gifts he allegedly received from Al-Ahram, the country's flagship state-owned newspaper, and agreed to refund it $3 million. And in the same month a court overturned his life sentence on the grounds that the prosecution lacked concrete evidence and failed to prove the protesters were killed by the police.
In April an investigation began into allegations Mubarak and his family embezzled state funds designated for the maintenance and upkeep of presidential palaces. And on April 13 he was back on trial for alleged complicity in the killing of protesters in the last days of his rule. That trial, the one that could put him back in prison, resumes on Aug. 25.
But even before the three judges ruled, human rights advocates were arguing for a new system of justice to make up for shoddy prosecution and a judiciary divided between loyalists of the old regime, Islamists and independents.
Mubarak's release "will cause chaos," said human rights lawyer Nasser Amin. "It will be used by Islamists as proof of the return of the old regime...and can lead to new alliances between revolutionary groups and political Islam."
On the streets of Cairo, random interviews about Mubarak highlighted the deep polarization in Egypt, which doesn't always clearly follow the fault lines of pro-Morsi or pro-military.
"This is an absurd charade by the judiciary, the army, the police in order to reinstate Mubarak and his corrupt regime and to rob the people of their revolution," said Ibrahim Mohammed, a man in his 30s who said he wasn't a Morsi supporter.
Another Cairo resident, Ahmad Kamal, said it was time Mubarak was set free.
Meanwhile, Morsi supporters called on Egyptians to hold "Friday of Marytrs," protest against the military.
In a late night Tuesday statement, the Brotherhood and the allied Anti-Coup Coalition appealed to their supporters to continue street demonstrations in their neighborhoods and to stay home from work.
"The detentions and terror operations carried out by coup-makers should not demoralize you," the statement said. "It is your duty to continue daily activities undeterred."
Hundreds, including the group's former lawmakers, politicians, and field organizers are already in custody.
Morsi and his top aides have been held incommunicado at unknown locations since the military coup. The ouster of Morsi, Egypt's first democratically elected president, came after four days of mass protests in Cairo and elsewhere demanding he step down for abusing his power.
Over the past three days, the group's campaign of near-daily protests has petered out, with scattered demonstrations in Cairo and elsewhere attracting mere hundreds, or even dozens, of protesters.
On Tuesday, several hundred Morsi supporters staged protests in Helwan, an industrial suburb south of Cairo, and in Ein Shams, a residential district on the opposite end of the city, shortly before the 11-hour curfew went into effect at 7 p.m. They also held a similar rally in the southern suburb of Maadi.
Key Brotherhood figures who are still on the run and wanted for various charges are Mohammed el-Beltagy, a former lawmaker and a member of the assembly that last year drafted the now-suspended constitution, and Essam el-Erian, deputy leader of the Freedom and Justice party, the political arm of the group.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.