Published August 22, 2013
Egypt's former leader Hosni Mubarak, who has been held in detention since April 2011, has been released from jail and taken to a military hospital in Cairo where he will be placed under house arrest.
A helicopter landed outside of Tora prison in Cairo Thursday afternoon to pick up Mubarak, state TV reported. Dozens of his supporters had gathered before his release.
Footage on private TV stations showed a helicopter arriving at a pad outside the Maadi Military Hospital, on the banks of the Nile. Mubarak was immediately transported to an ambulance, heavily guarded, and moved across the street to the hospital. He was not seen during the transport.
Mubarak was toppled in Egypt's popular uprising in 2011, and his release could potentially stoke tensions in the deeply divided nation. It could also amplify the anger against the military-backed government and Islamist allegations that last month's military coup against Mubarak's successor, Mohamed Morsi, was a step toward restoring the old regime.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Thursday that Egypt's 2011 revolution is "still fresh" in the minds of the country's people and that they have shown little desire to return to the regime of Mubarak.
But Mostafa Mohsein, one of the supporters outside the Tora prison, told the Associated Press that without Mubarak "the country is completely lost."
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi ordered Mubarak be put under house arrest as part of the emergency measures imposed this month after Morsi's removal from office on July 3. The decision appeared designed to ease some of the criticism over Mubarak being freed from prison and ensure that he appears in court next week for a separate trial.
Since his ouster, Mubarak's supporters have released conflicting details about his health, including that the 85-year-old suffered a stroke, a heart attack and at times went into a coma. His critics called these an attempt to gain public sympathy and court leniency.
His wife, Suzanne, has been living in Cairo and keeping a low profile, occasionally visiting Mubarak and their two sons in prison.
Thursday's move followed a court decision ordering the release in relation to charges of receiving gifts from a state-owned newspaper.
Mubarak is currently also standing re-trial on charges of complicity in the killing of protesters in the 2011 uprising, which could put him back behind bars, and faces investigation into at least two other corruption cases as well.
The three judges who ordered Mubarak be freed met in Tora prison, where he has been held for most of his detention since April 2011. But even before they ruled, human rights advocates have argued for a new system of justice to make up for a shoddy prosecution and a judiciary divided between loyalists of the old regime, Islamists and independents.
Since his overthrow in February 2011, 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 his 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, Mubarak was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
In January, 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. His trial on charges of alleged complicity in the killing of protesters resumes Aug. 25.
The act of Mubarak being freed, even if only temporarily, may feed into the larger crisis bedeviling Egypt: the violent fallout from the coup that unseated Morsi.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.