CAIRO — An Egyptian prosecutor ordered on Monday that Hosni Mubarak, who led Egypt for 30 years until he was toppled in 2011, be freed, clearing the way for the former president’s immediate release from the Cairo military hospital where he has spent much of the past six years.
News of Mr. Mubarak’s impending release first came through his longtime lawyer, Farid el-Deeb, who said in a television interview that Mr. Mubarak, 88, was likely to be released Tuesday or Wednesday. Hours later, the state media reported that a Cairo prosecutor had ordered Mr. Mubarak’s release.
While Mr. Mubarak was free to go, he had not yet left Maadi Military Hospital, in southern Cairo. “As far as I am concerned he was in prison until today, and now he is free,” said the Cairo prosecutor, Ibrahim Saleh, in a telephone interview.
Mr. Mubarak’s release has been a prospect since Egypt’s top appeals court cleared him in the last criminal prosecution he faced in early March. Even before that, many Egyptians considered his detention at the hospital to be a political as much as a legal matter.
Still, the prospect of release of one of the Arab world’s most notorious strongman leaders, a longtime American ally accused of corruption and cronyism, is a landmark in Egyptian history and in some respects underscores how little has changed since the tumultuous days of his removal in 2011, when millions of young Egyptians thronged the streets clamoring for a radical new direction.
While the prosecutor’s decision was not surprising, it was undoubtedly awkward for Egypt’s current leader, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who sometimes praises the revolution.
Mr. Mubarak’s decision to cede power in February 2011 had ripple effects throughout the Arab world, and preceded the overthrow of longtime dictators in Libya and Yemen later that year. But the promise of the Arab Spring soon dissipated as Libya and Yemen plunged into chaos, Syria descended into civil war and the Islamic State feasted on the resulting chaos to pursue its vision of jihadist Armageddon.
The first competitive, democratic presidential election in Egypt’s history brought Mohamed Morsi, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, to power in June 2012. But just 12 months later he was toppled by military officers, who replaced him with a serving general, Mr. Sisi, who later left the military to become a civilian president.
Since then, Egypt’s courts have jailed tens of thousands of Brotherhood members, opposition activists, lawyers, journalists and other critics of Mr. Sisi. The political prisoners include many of the same people who helped topple Mr. Mubarak in 2011 — a paradox that will not be lost on many Egyptians should Mr. Mubarak be released in the coming days.