A Cairo appeals court on Sunday overturned Hosni Mubarak’s life sentence and ordered a retrial of the former Egyptian president for failing to prevent the killing of hundreds of protesters during the 2011 uprising that toppled his regime.
The ruling put the spotlight back on the highly divisive issue of justice for the former leader — and his top security officers — in a country that has been more focused on the political and economic turmoil that has engulfed the country for the past two years.
Mubarak, who is currently being held in a military hospital, will not walk free with Sunday’s court decision — he will remain in custody while under investigation in an unrelated case. The 84-year-old ex-president was reported last year to have been close to death, but his current state of health is unknown.
A small crowd of Mubarak loyalists in the courtroom erupted with applause after the ruling was read out. Holding portraits of the former president aloft, they broke into chants of “Long live justice.” Another jubilant crowd later gathered outside the Nile-side hospital where Mubarak is being held in the Cairo district of Maadi, where they passed out candies to pedestrians and motorists.
In a retrial, the prosecution has the right to present new evidence, such as that reportedly unearthed by the fact-finding mission, which could lead the court to convict Mubarak of ordering the crackdown.
If convicted, Mubarak could face a life sentence or have it reduced. Under Egyptian law, a defendant cannot face a harsher sentence in a retrial, meaning the former leader cannot face the death penalty.
A new trial for Mubarak could further unsettle the nation at a perilous time.
Egypt is grappling with an ailing economy; the pound’s value is slipping against the U.S. dollar, foreign reserves are shrinking, and tourism is in a deep slump. Politically, the country is deeply divided by the bitter rivalry between its Islamist rulers and their allies and an opposition led by liberals and secularists.
Clashes between the two sides have left at least 10 people killed and hundreds wounded last month.