CAIRO (AP) — Wearing a white T-shirt and flashing a smile, Hosni Mubarak was transferred from prison Thursday to a Nile-side military hospital where he will be under house arrest, a reversal of fortune for the former president who was ousted by a popular uprising and is on trial for complicity in the killing of protesters in 2011.
The release of the 85-year-old Mubarak comes amid a sweeping crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood, which rose to power after the revolution only to see their Islamist president toppled by a military coup last month.
The latest twist of Mubarak's fate mirrored the country's rocky transition, with the longtime autocrat released from prison even as his democratically elected successor remained jailed at an undisclosed location. The release threatened to stoke tensions in the deeply divided country, reeling from violence and the unsettled politics that followed the military coup against Mohammed Morsi.
Many feared the decision to let Mubarak out of prison at such a tense time would serve as a rallying cry for Morsi's supporters against the country's interim leaders.
But there was little immediate reaction from the pro-Morsi camp, which called for street protests Friday against the July 3 coup, despite a sweeping arrest campaign that has seen hundreds of its leaders imprisoned.
On Thursday, nearly 80 Brotherhood members were taken into custody, including the group's spokesman, Ahmed Aref.
Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi ordered Mubarak placed under house arrest as part of emergency measures imposed last week after security forces forcibly dismantled two pro-Morsi protest camps, triggering a wave of violence that has killed more than 1,000 people.
The decision came after anti-Morsi groups called on the interim leadership to use the emergency measures to keep Mubarak locked up, arguing that his release posed a threat to national security.
The decision to place the ex-president under house arrest instead of letting him go free appeared designed to ease some of the criticism and to ensure that Mubarak is in court next week, where a retrial in the killing of protesters in the 2011 uprising could place him back behind bars. He also is being investigated in at least two other corruption cases.
Footage on private TV stations showed the helicopter transporting Mubarak from Tora prison landing at a military hospital in the southern Cairo suburb of Maadi. Surrounded by armed troops in camouflage uniforms, he lay on a gurney, his hands grasping his head as he was placed in an ambulance for the short drive to the hospital.
Wearing sunglasses, a white T-shirt, khakis and white loafers, the former leader smiled briefly before disappearing inside the vehicle. As the ambulance drove away, guards, some with their guns drawn, ran after it, apparently fearing it might be targeted for attack.
A short time later, about two dozen protesters gathered on one of Cairo's main flyovers near Tahrir square, the epicenter of the protests that forced Mubarak from office. Wrapped in white shrouds and smeared with red paint representing the blood of those killed by security forces, they acted out a mock trial for the former leader.