It didn't seem possible, but the situation in Egypt just got a lot more volatile.
A Cairo judge on Wednesday ordered the release of former President Hosni Mubarak, who has been in jail since he was ousted in the 2011 Arab Spring uprising. Prosecutors said they wouldn't appeal the ruling, suggesting that the country's longtime authoritarian leader could be freed in days, if not hours.
Mubarak would not be entirely in the clear; the court would continue to weigh his appeal on charges of complicity in the deaths of protesters. Still, the thought of seeing Mubarak, 85, moving about freely while his duly elected Islamist successor, Mohamed Morsi, remains in custody will only inflame tensions in the divided nation.
Some have warned that Mubarak's release, coming a day after the arrest of Muslim Brotherhood spiritual leader Mohamed Badie, would increase the likelihood that the army's bloody crackdown would trigger a civil war or an open-ended Islamist insurgency. Others predicted it would erode support for army chief Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi among Egyptian liberals counting on him to keep his promise to restore elected rule.
Egypt military so overplaying its hand by freeing Mubarak: http://t.co/JCM0L4E3OU Cld this end with a replay of Algeria's 1990's war?
— Nicholas Kristof (@NickKristof) August 21, 2013
The news is sparking a bitter reaction from Morsi's supporters. "The army has brought back Mubarak's regime, the same regime," Guma Abdel Alim told Reuters outside a bicycle shop in central Cairo. "Those who were elected by the people are now in prison."
Indeed, for all appearances this is a full reversal of the pro-democracy uprising that ended the reign of Mubarak, who ran Egypt for three decades under a state of emergency.
Bashar is doing fine. Mubarak is doing fine. Just waiting for the resurrection of Qaddafi now.
— Jeffrey Goldberg (@JeffreyGoldberg) August 21, 2013
However, some of the liberal groups that backed the ouster of Mubarak and Morsi say Egyptians will have to accept the hated Mubarak's release. "The government knows that if Mubarak is freed there will be public outrage," said Mohamed Abolghar, "but a court decision is a court decision.".
How the military handles Mubarak's release will be key. Ed Morrissey at Hot Air suggests that Mubarak should be sent on a long vacation:
If el-Sisi is smart, he'll arrange for a comfortable exile for Mubarak, rather than allow him to stick around and become a flashpoint for further violence. At least until the interim government makes progress toward democratization and reconciliation, the presence of a former dictator will prove too destabilizing and polarizing, especially when al-Sisi is spending his time rounding up the usual suspects and tossing them into prison. [Hot Air]