Egypt's Mubarak to be released from jail

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CAIRO -- An Egyptian court ordered deposed strongman Hosni Mubarak freed from jail Wednesday, and the ruling was greeted mostly with indifference, the most stunning sign yet of how outrage over his iron-fisted rule has fizzled since the Arab Spring revolt that swept him from power.

Mr. Mubarak's release, attributed to a legal technicality, would have provoked mass outrage in the wake of Egypt's 2011 popular uprising. But seven weeks after a military coup ousted the nation's first democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi, and put an end to its brief experiment with Islamist rule, some met the court action with nostalgia for Mr. Mubarak's order.

Hours after the ruling, Egypt's military prosecutor invoked military law Wednesday night to order that Mr. Mubarak be placed under house arrest after his release.

The court decision comes amid a resurgence of the police state he led for three decades and an intensifying government crackdown on his old Muslim Brotherhood foes. The ruling could further inflame supporters of the Islamist opposition. About 1,000 civilians have been killed since security forces broke up two pro-Morsi sit-ins in Cairo last week.

The court ordered Mr. Mubarak's release after the 85-year-old former president agreed to return or pay the value of gifts he received from state news organizations while in office, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said. The Egyptian prosecutor's office said Mr. Mubarak's assets would remain frozen.

It was the only active case among the three brought against him since his ouster. Judicial authorities accepted Mr. Mubarak's appeal for a retrial on separate charges of corruption and killing protesters during the Arab Spring uprising. Other charges related to the renovation of the presidential palace are pending but do not require his detention, because his family put up some property as bond.

Under Egyptian law, suspects cannot be held for more than two years without a conviction, said Foreign Ministry spokesman Badr Abdellaty. Mr. Mubarak has reached the two-year limit, he said, "so he can stay at home." Mr. Mubarak must return to court for his other judicial proceedings.

The prosecutor's office, part of a judiciary that critics have long accused of being stacked with Mubarak allies, said the court's decision was final, and that it could not be appealed. Legal experts said Wednesday that Mr. Mubarak could leave Cairo's Tora prison within hours.

"The prosecution has no legal ground to appeal the decision of his release, as Mubarak paid the money he took, and has no legal ground for his detention," said Yassir Mohammad Sayyid Ahmad, a lawyer who represents families of Egyptians killed by Mubarak security forces during the 18-day uprising in 2011, which left more than 800 people dead.

Some who participated in Egypt's revolt, which began Jan. 25, 2011, said Wednesday that they were appalled by the news of Mr. Mubarak's imminent release.

"It's the end of the 25th of January revolution," said Walid Ibrahim, 29, a bookstore worker in downtown Cairo, who had joined the mass demonstrations more than two years ago. "Because the 25th of January revolution was against the Mubarak regime. The problem with the 25th of January is that it didn't topple the regime, just the head of it."

But other Egyptians, who have been widely supportive of the military's July 3 coup against Mr. Morsi, said they were too focused on the ongoing political crisis to get upset about Mr. Mubarak. In a sign of how volatile politics have become since the 2011 uprising, some even recalled with longing the three-decade reign of Mr. Mubarak, who kept his political opposition tightly repressed. The rampant corruption of his government and other abuses have faded in the popular memory.

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