With a military crackdown in full flower this week and a new effort to disband the Muslim Brotherhood being mooted, the only thing missing from this crisis in Egypt is Hosni Mubarak. That won’t be for long, though, his lawyer claims, as the judiciary is about to free the former dictator after being cleared in a corruption case:
Hosni Mubarak, the former Egyptian president overthrown in an uprising in 2011, will be released from jail soon after a prosecutor cleared him in a corruption case, his lawyer and a judicial source said on Monday.
Mubarak, 85, was arrested after he was ousted. In scenes that mesmerized Arabs, the former leader appeared in a court-room cage during his trial on charges that ranged from corruption to complicity in the murder of protesters.
More than a year on, the only legal grounds for Mubarak’s continued detention rest on another corruption case which his lawyer, Fareed el-Deeb, said would be settled swiftly.
“All we have left is a simple administrative procedure that should take no more than 48 hours. He should be freed by the end of the week,” Deeb told Reuters.
This will test both the patience of Egyptians and the diplomatic skills of the West. The US and the West had a relatively close relationship with Mubarak for decades, thanks to his agreement to abide by the Camp David peace accords and our willingness to pay the military for that policy. However, the Egyptian people have had enough of Mubarak; even now, with Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood being widely reviled, there isn’t any groundswell of nostalgia for Mubarak’s dictatorship.
There is no telling what the impact of a free Mubarak will have on the situation, but as long as the military is holding Morsi and the other Muslim Brotherhood leaders while Mubarak walks free, it’s certain that the Brotherhood’s reaction isn’t going to be joyful. Even those sympathetic to the military coup may have little patience with this turn of affairs, especially if Mubarak attempts to re-enter public life, assuming he’s not still incapacitated. This is the wildest of wild cards in the roller-coaster Egyptian version of the Arab Spring.
Meanwhile, the police in Egypt have begun their own public-relations campaign after having endured scores of deaths and hundreds of injuries to their own ranks:
Islamists killed twenty-five more police today in a Sinai ambush:
Islamic militants on Monday ambushed two mini-buses carrying off-duty policemen in the northern region of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, killing 25 of them execution-style in a brazen daylight attack that deepens the turmoil roiling the country and underscores the volatility of the strategic region.
The killings, which took place near the border town of Rafah, came a day after 36 detainees were killed in clashes with security forces. In all, nearly 1,000 people have been killed in clashes between security forces and supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi since last Wednesday.
The military leadership is also pushing back on the PR front:
In an attempt to counter the perception of undue force by state security personnel, Egypt’s Foreign Ministry accused the foreign media on Sunday of telling only half of the story, and handed out photos showing what it purported to be armed men among the pro-Morsi protesters. It was a clear attempt, reported CBS News correspondent Charlie D’Agata, to label the Muslim Brotherhood and other Morsi backers as terrorists.
On Wednesday, the military raided two protest camps of Morsi’s supporters in Cairo, killing hundreds of people and triggering the current wave of violence.
Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, the country’s military chief, said Sunday that the crackdown, followed by a state of emergency and a nighttime curfew imposed in Cairo and several other flashpoint provinces, is needed to protect the country from “civil war.” El-Sissi has vowed the military would stand firm in the face of the rising violence but also called for the inclusion of Islamists in the post-Morsi political process.
We’ll see whether this helps, but the Islamists are making it pretty easy for everyone else to conduct PR campaigns. Don’t be too surprised if even Mubarak gets a positive revisionist uplift in this chaos.