Egypt’s longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak may be released from prison as early as today after a court ordered him freed, while authorities arrested the Muslim Brotherhood’s spokesman amid a crackdown on the group.
Mubarak would be placed under house arrest under a decision issued late last night by the interim government. That move may have been designed to mitigate outrage if Mubarak was to be allowed to go entirely free pending charges still being heard in court.
While Mubarak is unlikely to find a place in the new political order, his release would inject more tension into the violent standoff between the Muslim Brotherhood and the government the military installed after deposing President Mohamed Mursi last month. Freedom for Mubarak would also provide ammunition to those who accuse Egypt’s leaders of seeking to restore the kind of police state Mubarak led before he was overthrown in 2011.
“The timing is very bad because we’re already caught up in numerous confrontations, so the last thing that Egypt needs is bringing the Mubarak issue out,” Ziad Akl, a researcher at the Cairo-based Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, said by phone. “The main concern that the release of Mubarak will lead to the return of the old regime is quite nonsense. The old regime is basically dead.”
Egypt’s cabinet said in a note to reporters that Mubarak was ordered to be held under house arrest. It was not immediately clear where he would be held if he was released -- either at home or in a hospital given the persistent reports of his ailing health.
The development came as the government pressed ahead with its targeting of Brotherhood officials, an effort that has seen its supreme guide and other senior leaders swept up. In the latest move, authorities arrested Ahmed Aref, the group’s spokesman, Assistant Interior Minister Abdel-Fatah Othman said. Aref was detained in an apartment in the Cairo district where the Brotherhood had held a sit-in whose break-up on Aug. 14 triggered a wave of violence that killed more than 900 people.
The struggle is raising the cost of financing the budget gap and leaving little room for the government to spur growth.
Yields on local-currency debt are rising from two-year lows hit after Mursi’s ouster. Egypt sold one-year notes at an average 12.86 percent this week, more than twice what Lebanon pays for its local debt. The budget gap may widen to 12 percent by year-end from 11 percent in 2012, according to the average of 11 analyst estimates compiled by Bloomberg, the highest among 65 countries it tracks.
The order to free Mubarak does not stop pending trials on other charges against him, including his alleged role in the deaths of protesters in the uprising that swept him from power. He is facing a retrial in that case after a court overturned an earlier life sentence against him.
Mubarak’s ouster had fed hopes in some quarters that Egypt would emerge from his three decades of rule a more prosperous and democratic nation. During Mursi’s year in office, divisions widened, with critics accusing him of cementing the power of his Brotherhood backers at the expense of the nation’s welfare.
Days of mass demonstrations against him culminated in Mursi’s removal. His Brotherhood supporters have refused to accept that, and the nation has been mired in violence.
The military-backed government imposed a monthlong state of emergency on Aug. 14 and a nighttime curfew. Protests have also been quelled for the time being, though Mursi’s supporters have called for new rallies on Aug. 23, Al Arabiya television reported.
The tumult has made it more difficult for Egypt to reverse the slowdown that has battered the economy since Mubarak’s overthrow. Growth is at its most sluggish in two decades.
State-run Nile News said Mubarak could be freed today, citing his lawyer. Farid ElDib, Mubarak’s lawyer, couldn’t be reached on his mobile phone. The deposed president has been placed on a travel ban list, the prosecutor-general’s office said in a statement.
“Mubarak has politically ended, he doesn’t pose any threat,” Abdel-Ghaffar Shukr, a senior member of the main coalition that opposed Mursi, the National Salvation Front, said by phone. “Just like Mubarak used the Muslim Brotherhood as a scarecrow to suppress the opposition and the popular uprising against him, now the Muslim Brotherhood is trying to use Mubarak to scare people.”
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