Former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak could be freed from jail after a court reviews his case on Wednesday, potentially stirring further unrest in a country where army-backed authorities are hunting down his Muslim Brotherhood enemies.
The court will convene at the Cairo prison where Mubarak is being held, judicial sources said, and review a petition from his lawyer demanding that the leader overthrown during the 2011 uprisings that swept the Arab world be freed.
If the court upholds the petition, there would remain no legal grounds for Mubarak’s continued detention, though he is being retried on charges of complicity in the killing of protesters in 2011.
At 85, Mubarak may have no political future, but his release – which his lawyer predicts will happen this week - could stir emotions and raise new questions on whether the popular uprising that ended his 30-year rule is leading back to a new form of military government.
Seven weeks ago the armed forces that Mubarak once commanded deposed his freely elected successor, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi.
Egypt is enduring the bloodiest internal conflict in its modern history, with about 900 people, including 100 police and soldiers, killed after security forces broke up pro-Morsi protest camps in the capital on August 14. A spokesman for a pro-Brotherhood alliance put the death toll among its followers at about 1,400.
Signalling their determination to crush the group and silence protests against the ousting of Morsi, Egypt’s army-backed authorities on Tuesday arrested Mohamed Badie, the Brotherhood’s leader.
His arrest is part of a wave of detentions among the upper echelons of the organisation. Egyptian state media reported on Wednesday that Murad Ali, a media advisor to the Brotherhood’s political party, and Safwat Hegazy, an incendiary preacher, had both been arrested while trying to flee the country.
A Muslim Brotherhood statement condemned the arrest of Badie, 70, and other leaders.