The decision overturned life sentences for Mubarak and his interior minister, Habib Adli, for complicity in the deaths of more than 850 protesters during the 2011 uprising. Both men face other criminal investigations and are expected to remain in prison until the new trial.
Egypt has been steeped in crisis between Islamists and largely secular forces since Mubarak’s overthrow nearly two years ago. The court’s decision means revisiting a violent chapter in the rebellion and raising the prospect that Mubarak, whose police state ruled for 30 years, may be absolved or, just as possibly, sentenced to death in a case that magnified the country’s differences and captivated the Arab world.
Despite his downfall, Mubarak, 84, still lurks in the national psyche, peering through the wire mesh of his defendant’s cage at his trial last year or angering his fellow Egyptians as court cases tell of billions of dollars’ worth of corruption. He serves as a reminder that the legacy of an autocrat is not easily scoured away and that a revolution is a painstaking and volatile work in progress.
Mubarak’s fate will be a test for the Islamist-led government of President Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood. Morsi had been pushing for a retrial to win harsher sentences against Mubarak’s inner circle. The Brotherhood hopes the case will rouse passions against the old guard and help Islamist candidates overcome public anger at the deteriorating economy in parliamentary elections expected this spring.
The retrial would also sharpen the focus on the nation’s beleaguered court system, which was weakened by a Morsi power grab in November and has been criticized by Mubarak’s supporters and opponents over questions of fairness. Reopening the legal drama fans the suspicions of many Egyptians that a “deep state” of Mubarak loyalists still controls the judiciary and security agencies.