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A free man

Matthias Sailer / bkAugust 23, 2013

Even though a new trial already awaits, Hosni Mubarak is free. Few Egyptians harbor a grudge against the former dictator, but some want a different kind of trial.

The former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak sits during his meeting with Emirates foreign minister, not pictured, at the Presidential palace in Cairo, Egypt. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil, File) /eingest. sc
Image: AP

For many observers, it was no real surprise, and yet many were still shocked. A Cairo appeals court has ordered the release of fallen dictator Hosni Mubarak, ex-president of Egypt. Though he faces a new trial on Sunday (25.08.2013) for the murder of demonstrators in January 2011, Mubarak will not have to follow it from behind bars.

The court decided that since the former Egyptian president had now been in investigative custody for over two years, the law stipulated that he must now be set free. None of the various charges and court cases levelled against him so far has led to a prison sentence.

Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is wheeled out of a courtroom after his trial in Cairo in this June 2, 2012 file photo. Egypt's Appeals Court accepted an appeal by Mubarak and his former interior minister on January 13, 2013, allowing him to be retried over the killing of protesters in the 2011 uprising. REUTERS/Stringer/Files (EGYPT - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW)
Mubarak has not been sentenced on any chargeImage: REUTERS

The latest trial was a relatively trivial case of bribery, but it made possible Mubarak's continued incarceration, after he had been acquitted of the murder of demonstrators in January. There were several reasons for the acquittal, but Abdul Bar Zahran, of the Free Egyptians Party, had one observation to make: "The structure of the trial was not properly prepared by the state prosecutors, so the judge had no evidence against Mubarak."

Sabotaged by the authorities?

It was revealed, for instance, that important video footage had been destroyed by the secret services, and that a former state prosecutor had said that security forces had not sufficiently cooperated with court. There were also reports that prosecution witnesses had been pressured to revise their statements.

All of this points to a highly politicized judiciary. Nevertheless, Abdul Bar Zahran thinks the court's latest ruling should be respected - that is the only way, he argues, that the country will one day see a stable legal system with an independent judiciary.

Many other non-Islamic parties agree. Though the reaction on the streets of Cairo has been mixed, few people are actually outraged by Mubarak's release. Abdul Bar Zahran confirms this: "Many of them think, 'he's an old man, we don't need to lock him up,' " he told DW. "But the Islamist camp and the old revolutionaries of Tahrir Square might be of a different opinion."

But Islamists and old revolutionaries are in a minority, and currently on the defensive. Many Egyptians now say openly that they were better off under Mubarak, something that is also reflected in the general public support for the recent brutal actions of the military regime.

The Tamarod movement, which organized the anti-Morsi protests of June 30, has criticized Mubarak's release, but it is also using the opportunity to attack the Muslim Brotherhood, blaming former President Mohammed Morsi, and the state prosecutor he appointed, for the ruling. But in truth the trial began before Morsi's presidency - under the prosecutor Mubarak had himself appointed.

Frustation, but few protests

The April 6 Youth Movement is one of the few opposition groups to have announced demonstrations against Mubarak's release, to take place on Friday (22.08.2013). Ayman Abdel Meguidm, a member of the movement's political bureau, said, "We are frustrated with all rulings that acquit Mubarak. The state prosecutors have deceived the Egyptian people, and now we see Mubarak as a free man, unpunished for any of his many well-known crimes."

Abdul Bar Zahran, Party worker in Tahrir Square in Cairo on 16 November 2012. Copyright: Matthias Sailer
Abdul Bar Zahran says few Egyptians were outraged by Mubarak's releaseImage: DW/M.Sailer

But Ayman Abdel Meguid has no illusions, and knows that the protests will not be particularly big. At this point, he admits, those who would normally take to the streets for such a cause are just under too much stress. In the face of the recent public massacres carried out by the military regime, Mubarak's release is the least of their worries.

Hospital instead of prison

Little is known about Mubarak's new trial, set to begin on Sunday. As far as Ayman Abdel Meguid is concerned, the dictator's real legacy is the current turmoil in Egypt. "His rule is still the main reason for the violence taking place on the streets today."

In the evening, Mubarak, now officially under house arrest, was taken to a luxurious military hospital in south-east Cairo. It is likely to be his home for the foreseeable future.