CAIRO — During the latter half of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s three-decade rule, those who suggested rising up against him often would be reminded of an Egyptian phrase, “The one you know is better than the one you don’t know,” referring to Mubarak’s potential replacement.
As a judge ruled Wednesday that the imprisoned former leader – whose increasingly unpopular presidency amid economic and social decline spurred the 2011 uprising that led to his fall – could be released as soon as Thursday, the familiar adage once again permeated the nation’s consciousness.
Meanwhile, the military-backed government continued its crackdown Wednesday on the Muslim Brotherhood. It arrested senior allies to the recently ousted president and Mubarak’s successor, Mohammed Morsi, in an apparent ongoing effort to decapitate the group’s leadership and hamper its ability to organize new protests.
Egyptians successfully deposed Mubarak through mass protests just two years ago. But the period since has taught them that a leader whose practices and abuses are familiar is better than the one whose aren’t, many said.
But even as the Egyptian prime minister’s office issued a statement that Mubarak would be put under house arrest, the rage against the former dictator that once stirred hundreds of thousands in mass protests has been replaced with exhaustion over the upheavals since his fall.
The images of the former leader detained in a court cage, lying in a hospital bed, in the months after his removal from office once led many to believe a new Egypt had emerged. But on Wednesday, there was little talk of taking to the streets or appealing to the courts for his continued detention.
“Hos-ni! Hos-ni!” a group of street venders in the Zamalek section of Cairo yelled after learning that the courts no longer had reason to hold the former president.
Mubarak is expected to stand trial on numerous charges of corruption and brutality. The former president was sentenced to life in prison last year for failing to prevent the killing of more than 700 demonstrators during the 18-day uprising in 2011, but that case now is under appeal.
“I am disappointed, but people will not go back to the streets like before,” said Mohammed, a taxi driver who declined to give his full name so he could speak candidly. “They are tired of the Brotherhood.”With that, it appeared, the revolutionaries and their supporters now are backing the counterrevolution led by the Egyptian military and its civilian-appointed government. There was speculation Mubarak would run for office again, but regardless, the mentality of his military-governed state already was back.
Since Aug. 14, at least 1,100 people, many of them supporters of Morsi, have been killed in clashes with government security forces. National and regional leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, the organization through which Morsi ascended to the presidency, have been rounded up and charged by the government that replaced him.
The military and the civilian government have justified their actions by saying they are carrying out the public will, which has supported the crackdown.
Since Morsi’s July 3 ouster by the military, “ikh-wan,” the Arabic word for “brotherhood,” has replaced “fu-lool,” or “remnant,” as the latest term of derision.
Morsi has been charged with breaking out of jail during the 2011 uprising against Mubarak but is being held for another case. Earlier this week, his detention at an undisclosed location was extended for another 15 days as officials investigate charges that he instigated violence during December 2012 protests outside the presidential palace.
Morsi’s supporters staged a six-week sit-in demanding his reinstatement, and last week’s clashes erupted as government forces broke up the protest sites. Many Egyptians hold the Brotherhood responsible for the violence, saying its supporters were attacking security forces and terrorizing the country.
Wednesday’s ruling suggested that Mubarak supporters were now flexing their influence in the courts as well. A judge ruled that the time allowed to keep holding Mubarak, 85, on corruption charges had expired, allowing for his release. The prosecutor has 48 hours to appeal the decision.
In the past, the courts have often found grounds to keep holding prominent political prisoners. Morsi has been held since his ouster by the military, pending charges.
A 10-member committee submitted a draft constitution to President Adly Mansour that would allow members of Mubarak’s party, the National Democratic Party, to run for office. The proposed draft also eliminated several measures added during Morsi’s tenure as president and banned political parties based solely on religion, potentially targeting the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party.
Samira Ibrahim became the iconic face of military abuse in the months after Mubarak’s ouster as she was subjected to virginity tests, and spoke publicly about it, during the military’s interim rule between Mubarak and Morsi. She blamed the military, not the courts, for Mubarak’s release.
“We shouldn’t blame the judge,” Ibrahim said. “We should blame those who didn’t file a proper case against him or those who destroyed the evidence,” referring to the military council. “Nothing is clear right now, and if anyone (says) he or she understands, that person is lying.”
At least a dozen pro-Morsi and Muslim Brotherhood leaders have been captured in the last week, including the group’s spiritual leader, Mohammed Badie.
On Wednesday, Safwat Hegazy, an influential television preacher and Muslim Brotherhood supporter, was taken into custody in Siwa, a town near Egypt’s border with Libya, according to the Interior Ministry. A photograph released by the ministry showed a smiling Hegazy, with his beard trimmed into a neat goatee, sitting in the back of a vehicle flanked by three soldiers, one of them armed with an assault rifle.
The government had issued an arrest warrant for Hegazy for his alleged role in the detention and beating of a low-level police officer during a pro-Morsi march in July.
Authorities on Wednesday also arrested Murad Ali, a media adviser to the Freedom and Justice Party, the Muslim Brotherhood’s political front. He was captured at Cairo International Airport as he tried to board a flight to Rome, the state media said.
The crackdown on the brotherhood led the 28-nation European Union on Wednesday to suspend licenses for exports of arms and other items to Egypt that could be used for internal repression. The aim was to protest “disproportionate” security operations that “have resulted in an unacceptable large number of deaths and injuries,” according to the EU.
The move represented a break with the Obama administration, which has declined to halt $1.3 billion in annual military aid to Egypt in response to the crackdown. The administration last week canceled annual military maneuvers with the Egyptian army.
The EU Foreign Affairs Council, however, declined during a meeting in Brussels to suspend civilian aid programs, citing Egypt’s worsening economic crisis and the impact such a move would have on the country’s “most vulnerable groups.”
In a statement, the council condemned violence by both sides. It called on the government to end the state of emergency it declared on Aug. 14 after violently dispersing pro-Morsi sit-ins, release all political prisoners and heed “international obligations” against mistreatment of detainees.
McClatchy special correspondent Amina Ismail contributed from Cairo.
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