CAIRO (Reuters) - The sons of deposed Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak were released from prison on Monday, security officials said, a move that could fuel tension after the violent anniversary on Sunday of the 2011 uprising that toppled the autocrat.
An Egyptian court last week ordered the release of Alaa and Gamal Mubarak pending their retrial in a corruption case.
Mubarak’s sons, big businessmen in his era of crony capitalism, were released at 2 a.m. Accompanied by their lawyer and bodyguards, they were driven to their home in Cairo’s upscale Heliopolis area, security officials said.
Security and medical officials said they had also visited Mubarak in the military hospital where he is still in detention. Judicial sources have said Mubarak could soon be freed pending retrial in a corruption case as the former air force commander currently has no convictions against him.
Elected President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the latest man from the military to rule Egypt, has restored a degree of stability after Mubarak’s fall triggered nearly four years of political and economic distress.
But signs of discontent, including rare protests in downtown Cairo, emerged in the run-up to Sunday’s anniversary of the start of the uprising.
On Saturday, activist Shaimaa Sabbagh was shot dead during a protest in central Cairo. In rare criticism of Sisi, a front-page column in state-run newspaper al-Ahram blamed “the excessive use of force” for her death and called for changes to a law passed on Sisi’s watch which severely restrict protests.
“Four years after Egypt’s revolution, police are still killing protesters on a regular basis,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
“While President Sisi was at Davos (at the World Economic Forum) burnishing his international image, his security forces were routinely using violence against Egyptians participating in peaceful demonstrations.”
At least 25 people were killed in anti-government demonstrations on Sunday on the anniversary of the 2011 uprising that raised hopes of greater freedom and accountability in Egypt, a close U.S. ally with influence across the Arab world.
Witnesses say security forces with rifles and police armed with pistols fired at protesters. Some called for a new uprising.
Security officials said 19 people were killed in the Cairo suburb of Matariya, a stronghold of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist movement that then army chief Sisi removed from power in 2013 after mass protests against its rule.
Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim told a news conference on Monday that members of the Muslim Brotherhood fired on crowds in Matariya during the protests and killed people, including two policemen.
Ibrahim said 516 Brotherhood members were arrested during the unrest in several cities and reiterated that Egypt was “committed to fighting terrorism.”
In November, an Egyptian court dropped its case against Mubarak over the killing of protesters in the revolt of 2011 which raised hopes of greater freedom and accountability.
Many Egyptians say Mubarak’s rule enriched an elite that included his sons but neglected millions of poor in the biggest Arab nation.
Analysts say Mubarak’s perceived plans to set up his son Gamal to succeed him alienated the military, which largely turned a blind eye to the protests that helped end his 30 years of iron-fisted rule.
Critics accuse Sisi of returning Egypt to authoritarian rule, allegations the government denies.
After toppling elected president Mohamed Mursi of the Brotherhood in 2013, following mass protests against him, then army chief Sisi announced a political road map that he said would lead to democracy.
Mursi’s removal was followed by one of the toughest crackdowns in Egypt’s history. Security forces killed hundreds of Brotherhood supporters at a Cairo protest camp and arrested thousands of others.
Hundreds of soldiers and police have been killed by Islamist militants since Mursi’s ousting.
When liberal activists challenged the government, they too were jailed on charges of violating a law enacted under Sisi’s watch that severely restricted protests.
More than a dozen Egyptians approached by Reuters seemed too nervous to comment on the release of Mubarak’s sons. A few were indifferent.
“Honestly we don’t pay attention to these things any more. Free them, don’t free them, it doesn’t matter. Conditions are bad,” said a man who asked not to be named.
Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Dominic Evans