CAIRO -- An Egyptian appeals court on Sunday overturned the life sentence of former President Hosni Mubarak for directing the killing of protesters, a ruling that could prolong a politically fraught legal battle over the fate of Egypt's deposed autocrat two years after he was ousted.
The court is said to have ordered a new trial. Although expected, the decision may also put the issue of retribution for Mr. Mubarak and his inner circle back in the news just as a campaign begins for new parliamentary elections, which are scheduled for April. The decision may also bolster the prospects of the Islamist party of President Mohamed Morsi, who campaigned last year on a pledge to seek a retrial of Mr. Mubarak, capitalizing on anger over the weak conviction shortly after it was released.
Even as his opponents had begun collaborating with former members of Mr. Mubarak's old party, Mr. Morsi has made legal action against leaders of the former government a priority, sometimes suggesting that corrupt former colleagues of Mr. Mubarak were behind a conspiracy to disrupt the transition to democracy.
A ruling that overturned Mr. Mubarak's conviction had been considered probably since his conviction last year. The judge who handed down the verdict said at the time that he was convicting Mr. Mubarak on the principle of presidential responsibility even though he had seen no evidence that the former president had personally ordered or directed the killings. More than 800 civilians were killed during the three weeks of protests that ended Mr. Mubarak's 30-year rule almost two years ago.
The court on Sunday erupted in cries of jubilation and protest after the decision was announced. Mr. Mubarak's supporters jumped onto desks in the courtroom to celebrate, and a handful of others demonstrated outside.
The appeals court did not immediately disclose its reasoning, but early reports suggested that the court had found procedural problems in the conduct of the original hearings. In an interview with state news media, Farid El-Deeb, a lawyer for Mr. Mubarak, said that ordering a new trial for the same crimes merely because the prosecution failed to produce any evidence would be impermissible double jeopardy.
Mr. Mubarak, who has been held in a military hospital because of health concerns, will remain in custody. Perhaps in anticipation of the appeals court decision, prosecutors on Saturday ordered that Mr. Mubarak be detained for an additional period because of a new investigation that they had started into personal gifts he received from Al Ahram, the state news media organization that publishes a newspaper of the same name.
Now under new management, Al Ahram reported Saturday that Mr. Mubarak was under questioning about gifts, including gold pens, designer neckties, leather bags, shoes, gold jewelry and expensive watches, that the media organization gave him between 2006 and 2011 as demonstrations of loyalty. The newspaper said Mr. Mubarak was facing possible new charges, including squandering public funds and improperly profiting from the gifts.
A presidential fact-finding committee presented a report to Mr. Morsi this month that accused Mr. Mubarak of having far more direct awareness of the violence against the protesters than previously disclosed. The Web site of the Information Ministry last week reported, citing unnamed sources familiar with the committee's conclusions, that it found that Mr. Mubarak had watched the brutal tactics of his security forces in the streets over a special television monitor in his office and also received "firsthand reports."
Ali al-Gineidy, a member of the committee, said in an interview that Habib el-Adly, Mr. Mubarak's interior minister, had the panel, "Mubarak knew everything, big and small." Mr. Adly was convicted at the same trial as Mr. Mubarak, and his conviction was also overturned Sunday.
In November, Mr. Morsi set off an uproar with a sweeping presidential decree that, among others things, sidestepped legal procedures to name a new chief prosecutor on the grounds that the previous, Mubarak-appointed prosecutor had failed to move aggressively enough against the leaders and cronies of the old autocracy.
Mayy El Sheikh contributed reporting.world
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.