Egypt's Mubarak out of prison but far from free

Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, who left jail for house arrest on Thursday, enjoyed near absolute power for three decades as president before a 2011 uprising overthrew him.

The 85-year-old's spectacular fall from grace sent shock waves across the Middle East and beyond when he announced his resignation on February 11, 2011 after an 18-day popular revolt.

Just months later, in April, he was arrested and subsequently charged with various crimes, including corruption and inciting the deaths of at least 850 people killed during the uprising.

Last year, he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. He appealed, and a retrial was ordered. His next hearing is scheduled for Sunday with the case likely to drag on for months.

On Thursday, he was flown from prison by helicopter to a military hospital, where he will be held under house arrest, after he was cleared for conditional release while the trial continues.

The spectacle of the man who had dominated Egypt for so long appearing in the dock on a stretcher at his original trial gripped the nation.

He was convicted for his role in the deaths of protesters and could have received the death penalty when the court handed down sentence on June 2 last year.

But he was instead handed a life sentence, before the trial was overturned on the basis of procedural errors.

Until anti-government protests erupted on January 25, 2011, Mubarak had seemed untouchable as president of the most populous nation in the Arab world, backed by the United States and the military, from whose ranks he had emerged.

He had survived 10 attempts on his life, most of them by Islamist militants, but in the end, it was a popular uprising that brought him down.

It was a blow he found hard to accept.

Two months after his overthrow, Mubarak told pan-Arab satellite channel Al-Arabiya that he and his family were the victims of "false claims that seek to ruin my reputation and challenge my integrity."

After his life sentence, his health collapsed and the state news agency MENA even reported him clinically dead at one point as he lapsed into a coma.

He recovered but was reportedly deeply depressed by the election of Mohamed Morsi, the candidate of his long-time foe the Muslim Brotherhood, as president later the same month.

Morsi has been held in detention since the army deposed him on July 3 and installed an interim government.

Mubarak himself rose to power unexpectedly, when president Anwar Sadat, who made history by signing a peace deal with Israel, was gunned down by an Islamist army officer at a military parade on October 6, 1981.

He took office a week later and ruled without interruption until his overthrow.

Islamist militants were responsible for most of the attempts to kill Mubarak, including a failed bid to fire rockets at his plush Cairo residence and a plot to car-bomb the presidential motorcade.

In 1995, militants opened fire on his motorcade in Addis Ababa.

With his jet black hair, which he has maintained even in jail, Mubarak had a reputation for vigour and was once known to play squash almost daily.

But that image suffered in 2003 when he fainted while addressing parliament.

In 2004, he underwent surgery in Germany for a slipped disc, and he returned to Germany in March 2010 for the removal of his gall bladder and a growth on the small intestine.

Mubarak, whose wife Suzanne is half Welsh, has always kept his private life a carefully guarded secret.

He was born on May 4, 1928 in the Nile Delta village of Menufiyah and rose through the ranks of the air force, fighting in repeated wars with Israel, before supporting Sadat in pursuing peace with the Jewish state in 1979.

In office, he maintained the unpopular policy of peace with Israel and accommodation with the West that cost Sadat his life.

But he never followed in his predecessor's footsteps in visiting Jerusalem, to the abiding criticism of the Israeli right.

Mubarak's government was the frequent target of domestic opposition -- ranging from the Muslim Brotherhood to secular and liberal dissidents -- and his opponents were often jailed.

His regime mercilessly crushed militant groups, which carried out attacks in the 1980s, 1990s and, more recently, in 2004 and 2006, when tourist resorts were targeted.

Mubarak's ties with the United States and Israel drew criticism from across the region, especially during the 2006 Israeli war in Lebanon and Israel's Gaza offensive in 2008-2009.

When the uprising erupted, Washington deserted him -- belatedly in the view of many Egyptians -- and it was only the Gulf Arab states that backed him to the end.