CAIRO, Egypt — Hosni Mubarak ruled Egypt with an iron fist for three decades, and when he was sentenced to life in prison last year for failing to prevent police forces from killing demonstrators in the 2011 uprising, there were celebrations in the streets.
For Egyptians such as Mohammed Hussein, who risked their lives to protest his rule, to see him released from prison today is unacceptable.
“I will protest against Mubarak in Tahrir Square,” said Hussein, a 21-year-old student. “Of course he should stay in prison. He should stay or he should be killed. We won’t accept it. None of the Egyptians will accept it.”
Mubarak is currently under house arrest while he awaits a second trial, after he won an appeal against the verdict convicting the former dictator for his role in the deaths of more than 800 protesters.
On Wednesday, a Cairo court ruled that Mubarak must be released from prison: the two years has spent in jail exceed the maximum amount of time allowed for pre-trial detention.
But Hussein might be wrong that no Egyptians will accept the release of a man who spent 30 years at the helm of an oppressive police state here.
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In fact, many Egyptians are pleased to see Mubarak set free — at least for now.
In his small grocery shop in Cairo, Aref Abdel Mahdi watches television as newscasters and analysts discussed Mubarak’s discharge from Tora prison.
“You need to understand that Mubarak is a good man, a military man,” Mahdi said. “He served the country for 30 years.”
“Yes, he should pay back the money if he took it,” he said, referring to financial gifts prosecutors accused Mubarak of receiving from a state-owned company while he was president. “But he should be free.”
Like many here, Mahdi complains about the rule of Mubarak’s successor, Muslim Brotherhood leader and first elected president Mohamed Morsi.
Following mass demonstrations against Morsi on June 30, the anniversary of his inauguration, the military moved in to seize power July 3.
Morsi’s critics said he put the interests of the Brotherhood ahead of the Egyptian people. Liberal, secular and nationalist opposition parties said Morsi excluded them from the political process, raising fears their revolution against Mubarak had been hijacked by the Islamists.
The economy also suffered, and crime and insecurity chipped away at the state’s authority.
“Mubarak was a leader who wasn’t for the military or religion,” Moustafa Abdel Rahman said as he waited for a taxi with his wife and baby.
Abdel Rahman said he initially supported the 2011 uprising. “But we discovered that under Mubarak, we lived in a time of better security, a better economy and more stability,” he said.
Many of the original Tahrir Square demonstrators who led the anti-Mubarak revolt — then demanded the ruling military junta hand over power to a civilian government — also joined the protests against Morsi in June.
But few of them have demonstrated against Mubarak’s release so far.
As the strongman was flown by helicopter from Tora, his home for more than two years, to a plush military hospital outside Cairo, Morsi remained in military custody in an undisclosed location.
The military has played an outsized political role since it assumed power. Defense Minister Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi appointed an interim president, and also serves as deputy prime minister.
Last month, Sisi called on Egyptians to protest in support of the army's “fight against terrorism.”
And army soldiers supported a police operation against Brotherhood protesters last week, leaving hundreds dead in the streets. Its soldiers and armored cars patrol Egyptian cities after dark.
In the past few days, security forces have arrested a number of prominent Brotherhood leaders, including the organization’s Supreme Guide, Mohammed Badie.
Mubarak’s retrial begins on Aug. 25. It is expected he will stay under house arrest in the hospital under an order issued by Egypt’s military-installed interim government last week.
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But while few are expressing anger in the streets, Mubarak’s new status is highlighting how divided Egypt is more than two years after the popular revolt that ended his rule.
A Facebook group supporting Mubarak as a candidate for president in 2014 already has 2,700 "likes." But dozens of comments on the page are from Egyptians angered by Mubarak’s release.
One comment on the page quite clearly sums up the sentiment of those who fear Egypt is in a state of counter-revolution: “Mubarak is released. The Islamists are in prison. Baradei is in Vienna, and we are on Facebook,” one user writes, summing up the sentiment of those who fear Egypt is undergoing a counter-revolution — and that nothing has changed.
“Welcome back, Egypt.”