CAIRO — Jailed ex-Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak could be released this week, judicial officials said Monday, a move that would fuel the unrest roiling the country after the autocratic leader’s successor was removed in a military coup.
Underscoring the growing anger over Mohammed Morsi’s ouster, suspected Islamic militants ambushed two minibuses carrying off-duty policemen in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, forcing the men to lie on the sand and shooting 25 of them dead.
The brazen daylight attack raised fears that the strategic desert region bordering Israel and the Gaza Strip could be plunged into insurgency.
The 25 were given a funeral with full military honors after a plane brought their bodies to an air base in eastern Cairo. Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim, who is in charge of the police, and the army’s Chief of Staff, Gen. Sedki Sobhi, led the funeral.
The coffins of the victims were draped in red, white and black Egyptian flags and, in a show of solidarity, were jointly carried in the funeral procession by army soldiers and policemen. Earlier, relatives and friends wept over the coffins.
Despite the violence, Cairo, a bustling metropolis of some 18 million people, began to restore a sense of normalcy although the capital remained under a state of emergency and a dusk-to-dawn curfew.
Daytime traffic was back to its normal congested levels and stores were open. Government employees also returned to work. And the Central Bank ordered banks to extend by one hour their curtailed opening hours effective Tuesday.
During his decades ruling Egypt, Mubarak frequently warned that Egypt would fall into chaos without him at the helm.
The former president has been in detention since April 2011, weeks after he was ousted in a revolution against his rule.
He was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison in June last year for his failure to stop the killing of some 900 protesters in the 18-day uprising. His sentence was overturned on appeal and he is now being retried, along with his security chief and six top police commanders.
Two judicial officials, however, said there will no longer be any grounds to hold the 85-year-old former president if a court accepts a petition by his lawyer requesting his release in a corruption case later this week.
Many analysts, however, expressed skepticism, saying the political cost of letting the former leader who was widely hated for widespread abuses and repression during his 29 years in power could keep him in jail.
The judiciary officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media, said a criminal court on Monday ordered Mubarak’s release in a corruption case in which he and his two sons were accused of embezzling funds for the maintenance of presidential palaces. His sons will remain in custody, the court said without giving reasons.
Monday’s order, along with the fact that Mubarak had previously been ordered released in two other cases against him — the killing of the protesters and a case related to illegal earnings — opened the possibility of freedom for the former president.