An Egyptian court ordered the release of former President Hosni Mubarak on Wednesday, a judicial and a security source said. According to his lawyer, he could be freed on Thursday.
The court’s decision comes as several members of the Muslim Brotherhood were arrested, as the crackdown against the movement of deposed President Mohammed Mursi continued.
Mubarak, 85, is being retried on charges of ordering the killing of protesters during the 2011 uprising that led to his downfall. However, he has already served out the maximum amount of pretrial detention permitted in that case.
Mubarak was sentenced to life in prison last year for failing to prevent the killing of demonstrators. But a court accepted his appeal earlier this year and ordered a retrial.
The prosecutor overseeing the case said he would not appeal the court’s decision.
“The decision to release Mubarak issued today … is final and the prosecution cannot appeal against it,” Judge Ahmed el-Bahrawi said.
The decision comes seven weeks after the army toppled his elected successor Mursi.
At least 900 people, including 100 soldiers and police, have been killed in a crackdown on Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood in the past week, the bloodiest civil unrest in Egypt’s modern history.
The United States and the European Union are both reviewing aid to Egypt in light of the bloodshed, but Saudi Arabia, a foe of the Brotherhood, has promised to make up any shortfall.
Security sources said the court had met at Tora prison, where Mubarak is being held, to review a legal petition demanding freedom for the man who ruled for 30 years until he was overthrown in a popular uprising in 2011.
Mubarak is still being retried on charges of complicity in the killing of protesters during the revolt against him, but he has already served the maximum pre-trial detention in that case.
Although at 85 Mubarak probably has no political future, his release would be seen as a reversal of the pro-democracy movement that brought him down.
The generals ousted Mursi, Egypt’s first freely elected leader, on July 3, saying they were responding to the will of the people following vast demonstrations demanding his removal.
They have installed an interim administration to oversee a roadmap they say will lead Egypt back to democracy.
The authorities now portray their quarrel with the Muslim Brotherhood as a fight against terrorism and are jailing its leaders, including its “general guide”, Mohammed Badie, detained in Cairo on Tuesday.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which along with Kuwait have promised Egypt $12 billion in aid since Mursi’s overthrow, have frowned on Mubarak’s detention all along. Arab diplomats said the conservative Gulf states had lobbied for the release of a man they once valued as a strong regional ally.
Mubarak’s trial, when he appeared in a courtroom cage, and his jailing also affronted some Egyptian officers. One colonel, who asked not to be identified, said the treatment of the former supreme military commander had “tarnished the army’s image”.
The arrest of Badie, the Brotherhood’s leader, is part of a wave of detentions among the upper echelons of the organization.
Murad Ali, a media adviser to the Brotherhood’s political party, and Safwat Hegazy, a fiery preacher, were arrested while trying to flee the country, state media reported on Wednesday.
The Brotherhood said the crackdown would prove futile.
“The putschists think that arresting the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood and marring their image in the media will make Egyptians bow and give in to the coup,” it said.
“They have killed thousands, wounded thousands, arrested thousands but the (people) are continuing in their peaceful revolution, rejecting the coup and military rule.”
Badie was charged in July with incitement to murder in connection with protests before Mursi’s removal and is due to stand trial on Aug. 25 along with his two deputies.
On Tuesday, the state prosecutor ordered him detained for 30 days on the charges of incitement to killing during anti-Mursi protests in November and demonstrations in Cairo last month.
Footage released to local media showed the bearded leader sitting grim-faced in a grey robe near a man with a rifle following his detention overnight on Tuesday – images that seemed intended to humiliate the Brotherhood chief.