RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
It might have seemed unthinkable just a few weeks ago, but today in Egypt, former President Hosni Mubarak was released from prison. Mubarak ruled the country as a police state for almost 30 years, but had been behind bars since the 2011 popular uprising centered in Tahrir Square, Cairo. He's still not a free man, though. Judges have ordered him kept under house arrest.
The question now is whether the move will intensify what has been a bloody street conflict between supporters of the just-ousted President Mohamed Morsi and Egypt's military, the military which once backed Mubarak and is now in charge. NPR's Peter Kenyon is in Cairo to bring us up to date. And, Peter, tell us about how Mubarak left prison today.
PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Well, a helicopter landed inside the grounds of the Tora prison, and Mr. Mubarak was bundled onto that. The helicopter took off, to the cheers of a small group of pro-Mubarak demonstrators waving some flags outside, and went to a military hospital. He was loaded onto an ambulance and transferred. He's, of course, been facing charges on a number of cases. Those cases are ongoing, but he simply outstayed the legal pre-trial detention limit under Egyptian law. So the court said he had to be released.
MONTAGNE: What was the reaction to Mubarak's shift, I mean, to house arrest, but really, his release from prison?
KENYON: Well, a mix of reactions. Clearly, the government is somewhat concerned. This order for house arrest could be seen as a way of trying to calm people who are afraid that the longtime autocrat is making some kind of a comeback.
We spoke with people after the court ordered this release. One woman, who is a chemistry teacher, said, well, to me, Hosni Mubarak is old news. But another man we spoke with, a computer engineer, said this confirmed his worst fears. Now he expects a political comeback, and he thinks that Egypt's Arab Spring revolution will be wiped out.
MONTAGNE: What about supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood - and, in fact, now, it turns out, Egypt's other deposed president, Mohammed Morsi - who himself has been detained since the military forced him out of office?
KENYON: Well, this may be the most significant reaction. So far, Brotherhood supporters are saying, basically, well, we told you so - meaning those who backed Morsi's ouster last month. You put your faith in the military, the Brotherhood says, and now here come the remnants of the old regime.
The Brotherhood has already called for large marches tomorrow after Friday prayers, and it will be worth watching to see if those marches become more about Mubarak's release than about Morsi's ouster. And the reaction of the security forces will be paramount.
The last couple of days have been much quieter here, only a few marches taking place, mainly outside the capital. Tomorrow will be a signal whether this crisis is going to continue with violent street clashes, or whether there's some kind of new phase coming.
MONTAGNE: Well, speaking about a new phase, I mean, could Hosni Mubarak's release be seen as a dramatic shift in the political climate?
KENYON: It is being seen that way by some people, the ones who fear that there's this talk about bringing back the NDP, the old ruling party, and putting a ban on the Muslim Brotherhood will simply return Egypt to the old days before Mubarak was ousted.
Others say no, that's never going to happen. He's 85 years old. There's no way he's going to make a comeback. And the military has promised a new constitution and new elections. It's just a question of how many people are going to believe that, how quickly it can happen, and whether people can get over their uncertainty now and move forward.
MONTAGNE: Peter, thanks very much.
KENYON: You're welcome, Renee.
MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Peter Kenyon, speaking to us from Cairo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.