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Calm Down, Everyone: Mubarak’s Not Free Yet (and May Never Be)

Calm Down, Everyone: Mubarak’s Not Free Yet (and May Never Be)

CAIRO — Is Hosni Mubarak about to be a free man? An Egyptian court ruled on Monday that the former president was not guilty in a case that accused him of misusing state funds to finance the construction of his presidential palaces. Mubarak’s main attorney, Fareed el-Deeb, followed up the verdict by telling reporters that the deposed ruler "will be released [from prison] in 48 hours."

Mubarak’s release would constitute the victory of a lifetime for Deeb, who has defended him to the hilt since his ouster. But the former president’s release may not be as imminent as Deeb suggested, as state media reported that Mubarak would remain detained for at least another two weeks as judicial authorities determined his fate. What’s more, while the colorful lawyer has proved adept at making headlines over the past two years, his proclamations have a habit of not surviving a news cycle. 

From the beginning, Deeb seemed to realize that Mubarak would be tried in the court of public opinion, in addition to one governed by the rule of law. He tried to scrub away the portrait of his client as an out-of-touch despot, painting him instead as a sick old man: Mubarak, he said in May 2011, was "in very bad health" — he suffered from a heart problem, and his colon cancer had returned. In June 2011, he added that Mubarak suffered from stomach cancer as well, and that in June 2010 he underwent "critical surgery" in Germany that removed parts of his pancreas, gall bladder, and a growth on his small intestines.

In July 2011, Deeb reported Mubarak’s health had taken a turn for the worse. He said that the former president had suffered a stroke and slipped into a coma — roughly two weeks before he was to stand trial for the first time on charges of killing protesters. Mubarak’s doctor, however, quickly denied that his patient had suffered from a stroke or was in a coma. "I checked on him. He is in stable condition," the doctor said. "What happened is he got a little dizzy because his blood pressure was low."

In June 2012, soon after a Cairo court found Mubarak guilty of failing to stop security forces from killing protesters during the 2011 uprising, the former president seemed to be on death’s door. Egypt’s state-run news agency, citing medical sources, declared that Mubarak was "clinically dead." Deeb denied that the former president had passed away — but said that he was in a coma, had a water buildup around his lungs, and suffered from a clot in his brain, adding that "electric shocks were used to revive him but there was no substantial response."

Despite this staggering number of ailments, however, Mubarak never died — and, by the end of 2012, seemed to be making a miraculous recovery. Deeb told the Egyptian daily al-Shorouk in December that the former president’s health "has improved" over previous days. By April 2013, AFP reported that Mubarak appeared "strong and defiant" during a court appearance, waving and smiling at his supporters.

None of that is to say that Deeb’s claim that Mubarak will be released is necessarily wrong. After two years of legal chaos, the guilty verdict against the former president has been overturned and the legal period for which he can be held pending trial has expired. An Egyptian court must decide now whether he will remain detained while a separate case proceeds against him. But whether or not he’s freed, it would be wise to treat Deeb’s prognostications with a grain of salt.