[CAIRO] — An Egyptian court on Wednesday ordered former President Hosni Mubarak released from prison, saying all appeals by prosecutors to keep him behind bars had been exhausted, and his freedom could come as early as Wednesday afternoon by some accounts.
His lawyer, Farid el-Deeb, leaving court after the decision, told the Reuters News Agency that Mr. Mubarak, 85, would be released from prison by Thursday.
Al Ahram, the state newspaper, said on its Web site Wednesday afternoon that his release could come within hours. It quoted an unidentified judicial source. Other reports claimed the prosecution would still have 48 hours to appeal his release.
A judicial source told The New York Times that all appeals had been exhausted “and procedures for his release will begin to be processed right away unless he’s detained pending other trials.”
Wednesday’s order, however, applied to the last of three prosecutions that Mr. Mubarak still faced. He had already been ordered freed pending trial on the two other cases, including a retrial on charges of complicity in the deaths of 800 protesters at the end of his regime in January 2011.
Mr. Mubarak’s release would inject a volatile new element into the political crisis convulsing Egypt, coming less than two months after the military coup that toppled his successor, the Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi, the country’s first freely elected president.
The juxtaposition of freedom for Mr. Mubarak while Mr. Morsi remains in custody would dramatically test the level of support for the military-led government among the many anti-Mubarak people who later sided with the decision to depose Mr. Morsi and crack down on the Muslim Brotherhood.
It was still possible that the prosecutors would find another reason to keep Mr. Mubarak incarcerated, since the country is under a state of emergency.
The decision to release Mr. Mubarak was made by the Northern Court of Appeals in Cairo in the so-called Al Ahram gifts case. Mr. Mubarak was charged with corruption for accepting a series of gifts valued at 28 million Egyptian pounds (about $4.6 million) from Al Ahram, the state-owned news organization.
His lawyer, Mr. Deeb, however, argued that he should be released pending trial because he had already made restitution for that amount to Al Ahram.
Mr. Deeb had argued that keeping him in prison, where he has languished since April 2011, was abusive and exceeded the maximum limits for a prisoner awaiting trial. Chronically ill, Mr. Mubarak has been held in the Tora Prison’s hospital wing. [NY Times]