An Egyptian army soldier guards with an armoured personnel
carrier near Tahrir Square in Cairo. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El
Egypt's former leader Hosni Mubarak could soon be freed
from jail, giving a new jolt to a nation in turmoil, after a
court ruled that he could no longer be held in custody on a
His lawyer said he could be bailed within days, six weeks
after the armed forces Mubarak once commanded deposed his
elected Islamist successor to spark the bloodiest internal
conflict in the modern history of the most populous Arab
The army detained President Mohamed Mursi on July 3 after
huge protests against him. It has since cracked down on his
Muslim Brotherhood. Among hundreds of casualties, dozens of
security personnel have died, including 25 policemen killed
by suspected Islamists near the border with Israel on Monday.
At 85, Mubarak may have no political future but his release
could stir emotions and raise new questions on whether the
popular uprising that ended his 30-year rule in February 2011
is leading back simply to a new form of military-backed
State television showed the 25 coffins of the slain
policemen, draped in Egyptian flags, arrive by plane in
"Those Brotherhood terrorists have to be killed now by the
hands of decent citizens," said Ayman Mohamed, who was
introduced as a cousin of one of the dead, his words
underscoring the gaping chasm growing in Egyptian society.
The Brotherhood renounced violence decades ago, denies any
links with armed militants, including those in Sinai who have
gained strength since Mubarak's overthrow, and disavows
attacks on churches that have proliferated in the past week.
The United States, a major provider of military and other aid
to Egypt, warned against banning the movement and questioned
an official account of how 37 Islamist prisoners died on
After Monday's court ruling, the only legal grounds for
Mubarak's continued detention rest on a second corruption
case which his lawyer, Fareed el-Deeb, said would be settled
"All we have left is a simple administrative procedure that
should take no more than 48 hours," Deeb told Reuters.
"He should be freed by the end of the week."
Without confirming that Mubarak would be released, a judicial
source said he would spend another two weeks behind bars
before a court ruling on the outstanding case against him.
Arrested in April 2011 as talk of democracy swept from Tunis
and Cairo across the Arab world, the former strongman
appeared in a courtroom cage at a trial in which he was
convicted of complicity in the murder of protesters. But in
January, Egypt's highest court ordered a retrial, a process
which is continuing.
Fareed Ismail, a Muslim Brotherhood politician, compared the
possible release of Mubarak with the laying of new
accusations against Mursi, who is held at an undisclosed
location. The two decisions were, he said, "not surprising,
as we are expecting Mubarak to be released while we see
honourable people jailed".
"This is a continuation of the coup," he told Reuters.
Mubarak's release on bail from Cairo's Tora prison, which now
also houses many senior Brotherhood figures, could generate
more political tension. Almost 900 people, including more
than 100 soldiers and police, have been killed since the
authorities forcibly dispersed Brotherhood sit-ins in Cairo
In a report issued on Monday, New York-based Human Rights
Watch said the Aug. 14 bloodshed was "the most serious
incident of mass unlawful killings in modern Egyptian
In a subsequent mass killing, 37 Mursi supporters died on
Sunday while being transferred to a prison.
Government officials said they were suffocated by tear gas
during an attempted escape. The Brotherhood said the men were
murdered and demanded an inquiry. With Western powers,
including the army's US sponsor, voicing unease, state news
agency MENA said two policemen had been arrested over the
The US State Department cast doubt on the official Egyptian
version of the "purported prison escape", saying it was
"deeply troubled by the suspicious deaths".
It also cautioned the army-backed government not to act on a
threat to outlaw the 85-year-old Brotherhood, which has deep
roots in the provinces amongst Egypt's army of rural poor.
The interior ministry has defended its crackdown on the
Brotherhood, accusing Islamist terrorists of undermining
Monday's massacre in the Sinai, where attacks on security
forces have multiplied since Mursi's removal, will only
heighten tensions. Photographs circulated on social media and
purporting to show the aftermath of the attack showed victims
lying with their hands tied behind them, apparently shot
The images could not be immediately verified.
Mounting insecurity in Sinai worries Egypt and also the
United States because the desert peninsula lies next to
Israel and the Palestinians' Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, as well
as the Suez Canal, one of the world's most important shipping
Pressing an official drive against the Islamist movement, a
prosecutor ordered that Mursi, held in an undisclosed
location since his removal, should be detained for another 15
days in a new case of inciting violence, the state news
agency MENA said.
Egypt's upheaval is causing global jitters, but no consensus
on how to respond has emerged in the West or the Arab world.
European Union foreign ministers will hold an emergency
meeting in Brussels on Wednesday to discuss how to force
Egypt's army-backed government into seeking a peaceful
Options likely to be discussed include cutbacks in Europe's
5-billion euro ($6.7 billion) package of grants and loans
promised last year, as well as a possible arms embargo
against Egypt, said EU envoy Bernardino Leon.
"No options are being ruled out," he told reporters.
The United States, an ally of Egypt since it made peace with
Israel in 1979, has postponed delivery of four F-16 fighters
and scrapped a joint military exercise, but has not halted
its $1.55 billion in annual aid, spent mostly on US-made arms
"We have not made a policy decision to put a blanket hold on
the economic support fund," State Department spokeswoman Jen
Psaki told a briefing in Washington. "That review is ongoing,
and includes military assistance, security assistance and
also includes economic assistance."
But Saudi Arabia, another US ally, pledged to fill any
financial gaps left by Western countries withdrawing aid from
Egypt over the army crackdown.
"To those who have declared they are stopping aid to Egypt or
are waving such a threat, the Arab and Muslim nations are
wealthy with their people and resources and will not shy away
from offering a helping hand to Egypt," Saudi Foreign
Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said.
Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab monarchies, apart from
Qatar, have long mistrusted the Brotherhood's political
Israel is also prodding the West to stick by Egypt's army,
citing the need for stability. "Like it or not, the army is
the only player that can restore law and order," a senior
Israeli official said on Monday.
Egypt has made clear it will reject any attempts to use aid
flows as a lever.