CAIRO — Egypt’s new rulers moved former president Hosni Mubarak from a prison cell to house arrest at a military hospital on Thursday, ending more than two years of incarceration but stopping short of granting him full freedom.
His release stoked the anger of the thousands of Islamists and others still protesting nightly in the streets around the country to denounce the military’s ouster and detention last month of Mubarak’s successor, Mohammed Morsi. But among other groups, reaction was muted.
The left-leaning April 6 Group, which spearheaded the 2011 uprising against Mubarak, called off a planned protest against Mubarak’s release for fear that Morsi’s Islamist supporters might exploit it for their own cause or that security forces might crush it in their drive to suppress the Islamists.
An Egyptian court granted a lawyer’s petition for Mubarak’s release Wednesday night, but the decision to let him go was essentially political. The new authorities appointed by General Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi declined to follow the Morsi government’s practice of raising new charges to keep Mubarak behind bars. Instead, the new officials used the expanded police powers that they have granted themselves to keep Mubarak under house arrest without charges, assuring that he does not begin speaking out publicly or stirring up trouble.
Arriving from prison in a medical helicopter at around 4 p.m., Mubarak reclined on a gurney as a crew of soldiers and medics pushed him to the hospital. His lips turned up in a slight smile.
Interior Ministry officials said the hospital was his choice of residence after leaving the prison. His other previous homes had been presidential palaces, which are no longer available to him, or a mansion in the Red Sea Resort of Sharm el Sheik, which is entangled in some of the corruption charges against him. His wife, Suzanne, is reportedly living in Cairo and has visited him in prison. Their sons, Gamal and Alaa, both remain in a Cairo prison, held under other corruption charges.
Hosni Mubarak was released from prison the same day that a committee of jurists released a proposed constitutional overhaul that would in many ways bring back the Mubarak-era charter.
The package would remove provisions approved by last year’s Islamist-led constitutional assembly that set a framework for applying the principles of Sharia according to established Sunni Muslim thought. But the overhaul preserves a longstanding clause grounding Egyptian law in Sharia principles. It restores a clause left out last year that would limit women’s equality where it contradicts Sharia.
On the question of rights, freedoms, women’s equality, or decentralization, the proposed overhaul provides little or no improvement, legal analysts said. It still leaves broad and ill-defined loopholes for limiting freedoms of speech and assembly. On those questions, “it is essentially the same,” said Zaid al-Ali, a researcher at the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance.
The overhaul is expected to be rushed through a government-dominated committee of 50, and then a national referendum — a blistering pace compared with international norms for such debates.
Until then, the government’s flagship state newspaper, Al Ahram, said Thursday that the limits and duration of Mubarak’s house arrest would be set entirely by the military-appointed government, under the state of emergency and suspension of due process that it has declared. It also stressed repeatedly that while under house arrest Mubarak would be unable to vote or enter politics.