Soldiers and medics escort former president Hosni Mubarak after he arrives at a military hospital in the southern suburb of Maadi on the outskirts of Cairo, yesterday.
CAIRO: Supporters of Egypt’s deposed President Mohammed Mursi called for mass protests today against the army takeover, in a test of the Muslim Brotherhood’s ability to bring out the crowds with many of its leaders now behind bars.
Pro-Mursi protests have fizzled out over the past week. The muted reaction to the release of former president Hosni Mubarak yesterday highlighted the growing power shift in favour of the military he once commanded.
Brotherhood supporters have nevertheless called on Egyptians to hold marches on the weekly Muslim prayer day, billed as a “Friday of Martyrs”, against the army takeover.
“We will remain steadfast on the road to defeating the military coup,” a pro-Mursi alliance called the National Coalition to Support Legitimacy and Reject the Coup said in a statement. It named 28 mosques in Greater Cairo as points of departure for the protests.
Mubarak, who was overthrown in a 2011 uprising, was flown from Tora prison in Cairo, a day after a court granted him conditional pre-trial release.
But an order from the country’s interim prime minister, who has additional powers under Egypt’s state of emergency, means Mubarak will stay under house arrest.
For Mubarak’s enemies, the moment marked a reversal of the 2011 uprising that brought him down as one of the pillars of authoritarian rule in the Middle East.
“A year ago, it would have been difficult to imagine his release without popular protests against it,” said Barah Mikail, a Middle East specialist at the FRIDE think tank.
“Today, everything else that is happening has moderated the effect of this release, although that is not to say that Egyptians are indifferent.”
But indifference did appear widespread, with just a handful of people arriving at Tora prison to cheer Mubarak’s release, and not a single person protesting at the scene.
Egyptian media relegated news of his transfer to small items on their front pages or news bulletins.
However, the symbolism of Mubarak’s release has not been lost entirely, with some Egyptians on social media networks struck by how their country has returned to a time when Mubarak was free and the Muslim Brotherhood in jail.
“It’s so absurd! The symbolism of this development shouldn’t be lost,” said Shadi Hamid, an analyst at the Brookings
Institution. “What we are seeing is something that is largely unprecedented,” he added.
“It’s a perfect role reversal, as most of Egypt’s first elected leaders are in prison now.”
Mubarak’s release plays into the Brotherhood’s argument that the military is trying to rehabilitate the old order. The army-installed government casts its conflict with the Islamist movement as a life-or-death struggle against terrorism.
“This is the end. Mubarak will never be an important political player, but symbolically, it’s a victory dance by the reconstituted old state,” said Joshua Stacher, an Egypt expert at Kent State University in the United States.
Adding to a sense among some activists that the freedoms won in the 2011 revolt are in danger, planned amendments to the constitution leaked to the media this week appear designed to place limits on political parties and ease restrictions on the participation of Mubarak-era officials in politics.
But some Egyptians, many of whom have rallied behind the army’s crackdown, expressed fondness for the 85-year-old former air force commander whose tight grip on power brought stability.
“He protected the country,” said Lobna Mohamed, a housewife in the crowd of Mubarak well-wishers. “He is a good man, but we want (Abdel Fattah) Sisi now,” she said, referring to the army commander who overthrew Mursi following large demonstrations.
Mubarak was sentenced to life in prison last year for failing to prevent the killing of demonstrators. But a court accepted his appeal earlier this year and ordered a retrial in the case, for which he has already served the maximum amount of pretrial detention. Mubarak was arrested in April, 2011.
A senior United Nations official, Jeffrey Feltman, met interim Prime Minister Hazem El Beblawi yesterday as part of an effort to promote peace and reconciliation.
The government has bristled at foreign attempts to use aid or persuasion to nudge it to seek a political compromise.