An Egyptian court on Tuesday overturned former president Hosni Mubarak’s conviction on corruption charges and ordered a retrial, but the ex-strongman remained in detention pending a judicial order.
Supporters of the 86-year-old broke into cheers and chanted “Long Live Justice!” as the Court of Cassation in Cairo announced its decision, which concerns the last remaining of a series of charges laid against Mubarak following his 2011 ouster.
Another court in November dropped murder charges against Mubarak over the deaths of protesters during the uprising, which ended his three decades of autocratic rule.
If Mubarak walks free it would spur accusations against President Abdel Fattah El-Sissi that the former army chief is reviving the Mubarak era — something he has sought to deny.
A lower court had convicted Mubarak and handed him a three-year jail sentence last May on charges that he embezzled money earmarked for the maintenance of presidential palaces.
It had also given four-year jail sentences to the toppled leader’s sons, Alaa and Gamal, whose convictions were overturned as well on Tuesday. Four other defendants in the case were acquitted.
The Court of Cassation did not specify on Tuesday whether Mubarak was a free man following its judgment and did not set a date for a retrial. State media quoted a security official saying the ousted leader would remain in detention absent a judicial order for his release.
His lawyer Farid Al-Deeb told AFP that Mubarak ought to be released as he “has already served” three years in detention, including the time he spent in custody awaiting trial. But Deeb said that for now Mubarak would remain in the military hospital where he currently receives treatment.
The ruling sparked a rare protest in central Cairo, leading to clashes with police that left two people dead. “The possible release of Mubarak is a double-edged sword for the Sissi administration,” said Issandr El Amrani, the North Africa director for the International Crisis Group think tank.
“On the one hand there is a group of Egyptians and Egypt’s foreign backers in the Gulf who might welcome it,” he said. “On the other hand, this regime which is vulnerable to attacks that it is a continuation of the old regime, also has to keep in mind the symbolism of seeing Mubarak go free.”