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‘Everything is back to where it started’ as Egyptian court orders Hosni Mubarak’s release

Ruling adds to feeling that revolution has been hijacked

Former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, who was toppled during the 2011 revolt after 30 years in power, could be freed from prison as early as tomorrow after a court ordered his release.

Convening at Cairo's Tora jail complex - where Mubarak has been held since he was sentenced to life in prison last year for complicity in the killing of protesters during the uprising - the court today removed the last legal grounds for his imprisonment in connection with a separate corruption charge.

Earlier this year, a different court session accepted his appeal over the conviction in connection with protester deaths and ordered a retrial.

But the 85-year-old had already served the maximum pre-trial detention for that case, allowing the ruling to pave the way for his release.

Asked when his client would go free, Mubarak's lawyer, Fareed al-Deeb, told Reuters it could be tomorrow.

Sharing the same prison as Mubarak are members of the Muslim Brotherhood movement. Many were rounded up and detained after the popular coup which led to the downfall of Mohamed Morsi, the Brotherhood figure who succeeded Mubarak when he was elected last year.

Several hundred people have died over the past week as security forces launched a brutal crackdown against supporters of Mr Morsi and anti-coup protesters. Islamists have responded by attacking churches and killing dozens of police.

On January 25, 2011, the first day of what would soon become the Egyptian revolt, Bashar Abdel Menem was marching through the streets of Cairo in defiance of Mubarak.

“This is the first chance the people have got to express how messed-up the country is,” he told The Independent back then, as thousands of protesters stomped towards Tahrir Square.

More than two and a half years on, Mr Abdel Menem, now a 24-year-old doctor, said he is feeling “speechless”.

“Everything is back to where it started,” he said. “We're back to square one. Back to nothing.

”The people who started this revolution are now sitting at home and not wanting to be involved in the process. The members of the Muslim Brotherhood, who utilised the revolution for their own advantages, are now in prison. And the people who the revolution was against in the first place are now free.“

Despite the court ruling, because he continues to face charges, Mubarak will be kept under house arrest in Egypt and his assets will remain frozen.

His two sons, Gamal and Alaa, and Egypt's former Interior Minister Habib el-Adly, remain in prison on corruption charges.

Some liberals in Egypt said although they do not agree with the ruling, they believe the judiciary's decision should be respected.

Yet the development has nevertheless contributed to a sense that Egypt's revolution - if it was ever worthy of the name - has been hijacked by the reactionary forces of the military, the security services and the Mubarak-era establishment.

”Right now, there is no such thing as the revolution,“ said Ramy el-Swissy, a member of April 6, one of the leading youth movements which spearheaded the 2011 protests.

According to Egyptian journalist Heba Afify, the promise of Mubarak's release symbolises a ”complete and very obvious reversal“ of the insurrection which shook the Middle East.

On the day after January 25, 2011, Ms Affify was with The Independent when groups of activists were being rounded up by the security services near Cairo University. Reporters and protesters were bundled into a van by plain clothes secret police who were trying to stifle the revolt.

”Back then, ultimately what people wanted was a better life,“ she said. ”At the time, people felt that democracy, freedom and getting rid of Hosni Mubarak would get people this better life.

“But over the past two and a half years, it turned out that for some, the revolution took them on a worse turn. I'm not sure what percentage of the population still believes this better life is guaranteed by democracy.”

Even some families of those who were killed during the 2011 uprising appear willing to forgive Mubarak, according to Hassan Abu el-Emin, a lawyer who represented nearly 150 victims during the ex-leader's trial.

“Some of my clients now think that Hosni Mubarak had nothing to do with the deaths during the revolution,” he said. “But others say that no, they still think he is guilty.”

Mr el-Emin added that the unrest of the past two months and allegations of Muslim Brotherhood violence had contributed to a reappraisal of Mubarak's legacy.

EU suspends export of military equipment to Egypt

European Union foreign ministers have agreed to suspend export licences for arms which could be used for “internal repression” in Egypt, but will maintain €5bn (£4.25bn) in development aid.

Some of the 28 member states had been pushing to halt the economic assistance pledged last year, in protest at the military crackdown against Muslim Brotherhood demonstrators, which has left several hundred people dead in the past week.

But the majority of the aid goes to civil society groups rather than the Egyptian government or military, and Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign affairs envoy, said  that “assistance to the most vulnerable groups and to civil society must continue”.

The aid will remain under review, the foreign ministers said in a statement after their emergency meeting in Brussels, which also condemned “in  the clearest possible terms”  the recent violence and “disproportionate” use of force by the security forces.

The bloc pledged to “suspend export licences to Egypt of any equipment which might be used for internal repression”. It is  now up to individual member states to decide what equipment falls under that definition.

Charlotte McDonald-Gibson