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Egyptian Court Says Former Leader Mubarak May Be Released From Prison

August 19, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JEFFREY BROWN: The crisis in Egypt deepened today with the news that former president Hosni Mubarak may be allowed to leave prison. He was detained in 2011 after the revolution that deposed him.

Within a month after a military coup ousted his successor, Mohammed Morsi, the state of emergency remains in place amid continuing violence.

Even as Cairo’s streets were relatively calmer today, the Mubarak news came as an Egyptian court said it no longer had grounds to hold the former autocrat on corruption charges. It remained unclear, however, whether he would in fact be released and, if so, when.

The announcement came just hours after suspected Islamic militants ambushed two minibuses carrying off-duty police officers in the Sinai Peninsula. Twenty-five officers were shot dead.

Yesterday, in his first televised address since President Morsi’s ouster, Egypt’s military chief, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, warned that violence would not be tolerated.

GEN. ABDEL FATTAH AL-SISI, Egyptian Defense Minister (through interpreter): We will not stand behind traitors and those who cause menace. And schemers know we don’t have any of this, I assure you. We are reaching out with good intentions to all Egyptians, if it is good they want. If it other than good, then we are just left with no other choice but to stand against this with all our strength and might to protect Egypt.

JEFFREY BROWN: That pledge came even as the government acknowledged that its security forces had killed at least 36 pro-Morsi detainees. Authorities claimed it was a thwarted jailbreak. But Muslim Brotherhood officials described the deaths as assassinations and said the detainees had been shot through the windows of a locked police van.

And earlier this weekend on Saturday, more than 70 people were killed in clashes between Morsi supporters and police. All told, Wednesday, the fighting has claimed some 1,000 lives. In the meantime, the military-backed interim government continued its efforts to control media coverage of the unfolding events.

Officials have scolded Western journalists for not portraying the crackdown as a war against terrorists. And, Sunday, authorities arrested an Al-Jazeera correspondent on charges of inciting sectarian violence. On American television Sunday, several politicians condemned the Egyptian government’s crackdown.

And on CNN’s State of the Union, Arizona Senator John McCain, who traveled to Egypt recently for talks with both sides, called on the White House to cut off aid to the country.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-Ariz.: But for us to sit by and watch this happen is a violation of everything that we stood for. And when we threaten something, as we did, that we would cut off aid, the administration did, and then not do it, then you lose your credibility and your influence.

We have no credibility. We do have influence, but when you don’t use that influence, then you do not have that influence.

JEFFREY BROWN: But at the State Department today, spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the review of U.S. economic assistance is still in progress.

JEN PSAKI, State Department: We have not made a policy decision to put a blanket hold on economic support — on the Economic Support Fund, ESF assistance. Clearly that review is ongoing, as we have talked about in here quite a bit.

That review includes military assistance, security assistance. It also includes economic assistance. We’re going to abide by legal obligations. And we will make adjustments as needed.

JEFFREY BROWN: Meanwhile, a new survey by the Pew Research Center finds that 51 percent of Americans say it is better for the United States to cut off military aid to Egypt to put pressure on the government. That’s nearly double the percentage saying it’s better to continue military aid in order to maintain influence in Egypt.