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CAIRO – An Egyptian court on Thursday ordered the release from detention of former president Hosni Mubarak's two sons, overturning a ruling by another court whose judge surprisingly told police to arrest them and send them to prison.
The judge in the Sept. 15 hearing ordered the detention of wealthy businessman Alaa and one-time heir-apparent Gamal before adjourning the hearings until Oct. 20. The surprise decision by Judge Ahmed Aboul-Fetouh followed his rejection of a technical report that apparently cleared the pair of any wrongdoing.
Thursday's ruling to release the Mubarak sons on a bail of 100,000 pounds ($5,600) each came just hours after an appeals court accepted a motion moved by their defense lawyers to remove the judge who ordered their detention.
In their motion, the lawyers argued that the ruling was "unreasonable" given that they regularly attended hearings and their place of residence was known to authorities.
The ongoing insider trading trial centers on the purchase by the two brothers and their alleged accomplices of a large number of shares in a local Egyptian bank that they allegedly knew was to become the target of a takeover by Arab Gulf investors, a move that was virtually certain to dramatically drive up share prices.
The brothers along with their father were first detained two months after a popular uprising forced the senior Mubarak to step down in February 2011 after 29 years in power. The trio was later sentenced to three years each for embezzling funds meant for maintenance of presidential palaces.
The sons were released in 2015 for time served, while their father was freed last year. Separately, Mubarak was acquitted after a long trial of killing protesters during the 18-day uprising against his autocratic rule.
The Mubarak brothers have since their release frequently appeared in public, receiving a relatively warm welcome. Those appearances, however, have drawn the ire of powerful supporters of general-turned-president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. One of them is Yasser Rizq, the editor of a state newspaper who is known to be close to el-Sissi.
Preventing Gamal from succeeding his father was among the chief motives for the 2011 uprising and the military's subsequent support for the revolt. The years that followed saw stalwarts of Mubarak's regime put on trial on corruption or abuse of power charges, but most have subsequently been acquitted or walked free after repaying part or all the funds they had illegally amassed.
Second-string Mubarak loyalists have meanwhile found their way back to public life under el-Sissi, particularly in parliament and the media.
Rizq, the newspaper editor, sternly warned Gamal Mubarak in a May article against harboring political ambitions and suggested he might be willing to forge an alliance with the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood to run for president when el-Sissi's current term ends in 2022. He repeated these claims in an interview this week with a television channel close to the government.
"His real crime is insulting the dignity of the Egyptian people," Riza said, alluding to Gamal's one-time intention to succeed his father. It violated the constitution and amounted to the toppling of republican rule, he explained.
El-Sissi led the military's 2013 ouster of Egypt's first freely elected president — the Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi — and has since overseen a massive crackdown on his supporters, jailing thousands of them along with secular activists behind the 2011 uprising.
Egypt's constitution prohibits el-Sissi from running for a third term in office, but his supporters have raised the specter of amending the constitution to allow him to do so or extend the duration of his term. He won a second, four-year term in office this year in an election in which his only opponent was a little-known politician viewed as among his staunchest supporters.
Before the vote, several potentially serious, would-be challengers withdrew from the race or were imprisoned, including a former chief of staff and an active-duty army Colonel. Both men were charged with violating military regulations. A former prime minister who finished a close second in Egypt's first free election in 2012 withdrew after days of harsh criticism by pro-el-Sissi media.