Barring any last-minute surprises, former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak is expected to be released from prison in the coming days.
Mubarak, who was acquitted in one corruption case and reimbursed sums he was said to have received from the Al-Ahram newspaper in another corruption case, is to return to his home after even the prosecutor-general announced he wouldn’t contest the court’s decision.
Many in Egypt anticipated Wednesday’s decision, viewing it as part of a rigged game whose results have been predetermined since Mohammad Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood were ousted from power.
The Egyptian legal system is ostensibly independent and separate from the executive branch of the state, but it’s hard not to suspect that the Cairo court is influenced by the spirit of the government, just like courts in the Western world. In other words, the Egyptian public suspects the new regime wanted the former president released.
The question now is how Mubarak’s release will affect the dissent against the military and the new regime. In the last few days, the Muslim Brotherhood’s protests have calmed somewhat. While it may be true that just Tuesday night protest rallies were held against Morsi’s ouster and the “military coup,” they resulted in neither violent confrontations nor deaths.
In fact, this has been the state of affairs since last Friday, due in part to the action taken by Egyptian security forces against the Muslim Brotherhood’s leadership and the arrest of nearly all its senior members. One by one, the Brotherhood’s leaders are being led to prison, losing their ability to rally the Egyptian street and lead the demonstrations against the military.
But photos of Mubarak going free are liable to incite a renewed outcry against what might be construed as the return to power of Mubarak’s cronies. It is also possible that the timing of the release — alongside the imminent announcement of a new constitution ratified in a process of dubious legality — will be too much for parts of the Egyptian people to stomach.
In other words, compounded with the arrest and humiliation of Muslim Brotherhood leaders and a new, more secular constitution, to be ratified in an undemocratic manner, Mubarak’s release could reignite the spark of protest in Cairo.
Still, other voices are also making themselves heard in Egypt, mostly among secular commentators who are not connected to the new regime or the military but view the Muslim Brotherhood and radical Islam as the state’s worst enemy.
They claim that since the president’s resignation two and a half years ago, much water has “flowed in the Nile,” and Mubarak has in many ways become irrelevant. Therefore, they argue, the release is not expected to carry with it a wave of riots or ignite protests.
In their view, the attack which took place in Sinai this week, in which 25 Egyptian soldiers were executed, showed the public just how great a danger radical Islam poses to the country. And so, most Egyptian citizens still support the military and will want to see its soldiers acting to remove the Islamist threat to the state.
Under the shadow of terrorist attacks, even a free Mubarak seems less interesting.