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Egypt’s Mubarak freed from detention six years after his overthrow

Ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak looks toward supporters outside the area where he is hospitalized during the celebrations of the 43rd anniversary of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, at Maadi military hospital on the outskirts of Cairo, on Oct. 6, 2016. (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters)

Six years after his overthrow, former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak was freed from detention Friday, dashing the hopes of many who saw Mubarak's downfall as a sign that Arab leaders could be held accountable for corruption and repression.

On Friday morning, Mubarak left Maadi Military Hospital in Cairo, where he had been held since 2013, and went to his mansion in the upscale northern suburb of Heliopolis, his lawyer said.

The 88-year-old leader’s release comes weeks after the nation’s top appeals court cleared him of any role in the deaths of more than 200 protesters at the hands of the country’s police in the 2011 populist revolt — part of the Arab Spring uprisings — that ended Mubarak’s three-decade rule.

“Yes, Mubarak has been released today,” his lawyer, Farid El Deeb, said in a brief telephone interview.

Mubarak's supporters predictably welcomed his release, describing it as a vindication of sorts.

"I was certain from the beginning that the man who served his country and fought for it for 30 years could never kill his people," said Samir Abdulaziz al-Aswany, 47, a bank employee who described herself as a co-founder of a Mubarak support group. "Today's release proves he is an icon and that the Egyptian people are smart. . . . Mubarak is not a killer but a respectable man."

Many activists who risked their lives to oust Mubarak viewed his release as the latest indication of how little change the revolution has brought in terms of its key goals of democracy, justice and eradicating corruption. Today, their unbridled dreams of six years ago have been replaced by a weariness that has tamped down efforts to confront power.

From the archives: With peace, Egyptians overthrow a dictator

On key anniversaries, such as Jan. 25, when the uprising began, there are no longer protests or even gatherings — and it’s highly unlikely that any protests against Mubarak’s release will erupt. President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi’s government has jailed tens of thousands of foes and activists, a level of oppression that critics say exceeds that of the Mubarak regime.

The former president’s release has further deepened a collective despondency.

“I feel a little pain in my heart, but it will not interrupt my day anymore,” said Mona Sief, a well-known activist, referring to Mubarak’s release. Her brother, Alaa Abdel Fattah, is serving a five-year prison sentence on charges of staging protests without official permission.

“I no longer have hope in this judicial system, and I am not waiting for it to prosecute any criminals or those who have ruled or committed crimes in their names,” Sief added.

Mubarak was the first leader to face trial after the Arab Spring uprising, arrested two months after he was ousted in an 18-day revolution that drew hundreds of thousands of Egyptians into the streets of Cairo and other cities.

The following year, Mubarak, his interior minister and six aides were sentenced to life in prison. But an appeals court later ordered a retrial of Mubarak. In 2014, the court dismissed the charges of killing protesters, citing technical flaws in the prosecution. The ruling this month further absolved him of any accountability and paved the way for his release.

Mubarak, who became president in 1981 after the assassination of Anwar Sadat, was initially held in Tora prison before being transferred to the hospital because of his deteriorating health.

In addition to charges of complicity in the protesters’ deaths, Mubarak faced accusations of stealing tens of millions of dollars from the state. His sons, Alaa and Gamal, also were charged with embezzling millions through a network of official cronyism.

But even as Mubarak lay in his hospital bed, attending court hearings in a wheelchair or on a stretcher, the political tides were turning in his favor. The elected Islamist government of Mohamed Morsi that followed Mubarak's rule was overthrown in a 2013 military coup led by Sissi, then an army general.

Sissi swiftly began a crackdown on Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood supporters and targeted pro-democracy and human rights activists with arrests, travel bans and the freezing of bank accounts. These measures, as well as the enactment of strict anti-protest laws, quickly shrunk any appetite for protests or disruption, including those against Mubarak.

Initially, some observers had thought that the Sissi government would not allow Mubarak's release, fearing a public backlash. But the judicial rulings in Mubarak's favor have been widely viewed by government critics as the latest indication of the nation's lack of judicial independence and the return of the pre-revolutionary order.

The only judicial victory was in May 2015 when a court sentenced Mubarak and his sons to three years in prison each and ordered them to reimburse $20 million to the state. But the judge allowed for prison time served already. As a result, Mubarak's sons were released from custody later that year. Today, they are seen in restaurants or dropping their children off at school. Many of Mubarak's allies have kept their wealth and remain influential.

Some activists say Mubarak's release, while disappointing, will not end their struggle.

“Whether Mubarak is at home or in prison, the revolution continues to be part of the hearts and minds and consciousness of millions of the young people of Egypt,” said Ahmed Abdallah, head of the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms. “And they cannot change this.”

On Friday, Deeb said that the former leader's "health is good" and that Mubarak would continue to receive medical treatment at his home. He added that there were no other legal cases pending against Mubarak and that "his legal situation is fine."

"There is nothing wrong," Deeb added.

Mubarak, he sad, has no plans to hold a news conference or participate in media appearances. Nor does he have firm ideas on how he plans to spend his time in the weeks and months ahead.

"He has no plans for the near future," Deeb said. "He is just staying at home and resting."

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