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Egypt junta bows to protesters, Mubarak and sons jailed

Egyptian police officers guard a convoy carrying former president Hosni Mubarak's sons Alaa and Gamal outside Sharm el-Sheikh courthouse.

Amr Nabil/Amr Nabil/AP

Egypt's interim military-backed regime has moved quickly to satisfy the demands of the country's still restive protesters.

In an unprecedented step, Egypt's Prosecutor-General ordered former president Hosni Mubarak and his two sons, Gamal and Alaa, detained for 15 days pending investigation into allegations of corruption during the Mubarak presidency and of ordering the killing of the protesters earlier this year.

While acclaimed for their lightning speed, the extraordinary measures are a strategic move for the men now ruling Egypt.

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The detention order was enforced only after the senior Mr. Mubarak, 82, was taken Tuesday afternoon to the international hospital in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh where he maintains a palatial home. Mr. Mubarak, it was reported, had been admitted, complaining of heart trouble.

The prosecutor's office later stated that, despite the hospitalization, Mr. Mubarak still was questioned regarding the criminal allegations. He remains under detention in a comfortable hospital room.

Gamal and Alaa Mubarak were not so fortunate. They were taken from the family compound in a van reportedly pelted with water bottles and sandals by a crowd of several hundred that had gathered outside the residence.

The two men were flown to Cairo and incarcerated in the infamous Tora Prison, home to many of the country's most notorious political prisoners - many put there during the Mubarak years. Each brother was issued with prison whites, a mattress and sheet, and had his mobile phone taken away.

For the high-flying Gamal Mubarak, master deal-maker, the man who had introduced liberal economic reforms to the country, and possible presidential candidate, it must have come as a rude shock.

Hundreds of thousands of protesters had gathered Friday in Cairo's Tahrir Square demanding the Mubaraks' prosecution. They wanted a clear signal that the corruption of the three decades of the Mubarak regime would finally come to an end, and were fed up with the slow pace of justice.

"They got what they wanted," said a Cairo business consultant with ties to Mubarak-related enterprises. "In fact, the protesters have gotten everything they asked for," he said in disbelief.

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"A lot of people don't think this was necessary," he said, referring to the police detentions. "This man was the head of state, a war hero. He's old and sick."

"People are worried about the economy, not settling scores," he said. "They want to move forward."

They may want to move forward, but they can't forgive what Mr. Mubarak has done, said Hisham Kassem, past chairman of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights and founding editor of al-Masry al-Youm, Egypt's only independent daily newspaper. "There is zero sympathy for him," he said.

"He shows no regret for anything he did," agreed a Western diplomat, referring to a statement made Sunday by the ousted president on al-Arabiya Television, the only public words the former president has issued since leaving office Feb. 11.

"I think that statement was a big reason why the military acted to have him detained," he said. "They didn't want the protesters inflamed again."

Since Mr. Mubarak's ouster, Egypt has been ruled by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, with its head, Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, Egypt's Defence Minister for 20 years, acting as head of state.

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"The military finds itself in a difficult situation," says Karim Alrawi, an Egyptian playwright and human-rights activist. "It's been a beneficiary of the Mubarak regime for so long, therefore it owes him; yet, now it's placed in the uncomfortable position of being the revolution's guardian and expected to act against the enemies of the revolution."

Mr. Alrawi, however, says the military has rationalized its actions.

"The one group it wants to win over is the Muslim Brotherhood's old guard," he said.

"The generals believe that an alliance between themselves, the Muslim Brotherhood and the remnants of the once dominant National Democratic Party is workable, going forward."

The Brotherhood, Mr. Alrawi believes, is the key to keeping the army's conscripts in line and the military's own vested economic interests in place.

To achieve that, "Mubarak, his family and entourage are a price that must be paid, unless the army is prepared to take on the revolutionaries head-on," he said. "So far it does not seem willing to do so."

Another force appears also to have figured in this week's actions.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal made an unexpected visit to Cairo Tuesday, meeting with top officials for only a few hours before flying off again.

No communiqué was issued, but the House of Saud considers Mr. Mubarak its most loyal ally in the campaign against Iran's growing influence in the region. The well-connected consultant believes Prince Saud would have made it clear that his family would not like to see Mr. Mubarak prosecuted.

Saudi Arabia said recently it plans to invest $50-billion (U.S.) in Egypt, the consultant said. "It may well cancel those plans if Mubarak is put on trial."

"I'm sure the army wishes Mubarak would just die," the diplomat said. "It would save them this headache."

"Of course then they'd have the problem of what kind of funeral he'd have."

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About the Author
Global Affairs reporter

As Global Affairs Writer, Patrick Martin’s primary focus is on the turbulent Middle East, to which he travels regularly. He has twice been posted to the region – from 1991-95 and from 2008-12. More

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