01:40 - Source: CNN
Verdict is in for Egyptian ex-president

Story highlights

A judge dropped charges against Mubarak in the deaths of hundreds of protesters

He was previously convicted and sentenced to life in prison, but appealed

"Our children's blood isn't cheap," the mother of one of the slain protesters says

Mubarak is still serving a three-year sentence for embezzlement

Cairo CNN  — 

Egyptian prosecutors say they will appeal after former ruler Hosni Mubarak was cleared of charges linking him to the deaths of hundreds of protesters during the country’s 2011 uprising.

The ruling was a stunning reversal for the ex-president who had been convicted of ordering the killings of peaceful protesters and was sentenced to life in prison for the same charges two years ago.

On Saturday, a Cairo judge dismissed charges linking Mubarak to the deaths of protesters during the 2011 revolt that led to the end of his 29-year rule. The judge also found him not guilty of corruption.

The 86-year-old was stoic as his supporters in the courtroom cheered the decision that capped a months-long retrial. Reclining on a hospital gurney in a defendants’ cage, he nodded while fellow defendants kissed him on the head.

Later, he told the country’s Sada ElBalad TV station in a brief phone interview that he “didn’t commit anything.”

“I laughed when I heard the first verdict,” he said of the first trial, which he appealed. “When it came to the second verdict, I said I was waiting. It would go either way. It wouldn’t have made a difference to me either way.”

Prosecutor-General Hisham Barakat will appeal the verdict, Egypt’s government-controlled Al-Ahram newspaper website reported Sunday.

Also acquitted Saturday were Mubarak’s former Interior Minister Habib el-Adly and six of el-Adly’s aides, who’d been accused of being connected to the deaths of 239 protesters as security forces cracked down on them in 2011. Mubarak’s two sons also were acquitted Saturday of corruption.

Mubarak is still serving a three-year sentence for a previous conviction for embezzlement handed down in May, but it’s not clear when he will be released because he is expected to be credited for time already served.

CNN’s efforts to reach Mubarak’s lawyer Farid El-Deeb for comment weren’t immediately successful.

Both sides have alleged that Mubarak’s trials have been politicized, with supporters arguing he was unfairly vilified and opponents fearing that he’d be acquitted as memories of the revolution faded.

His legal fortunes did seem to parallel the political climate – just last year, Mohamed Morsy, the Islamist who became Egypt’s first democratically elected president, supported a retrial with the backing of his supporters, who argued Mubarak should have received a death sentence rather than life in captivity.

But Morsy himself was deposed by the military in July 2013, as opponents accused him of pursuing an Islamist agenda at the exclusion of other factions.

And now the Arab Spring revolt that ousted Mubarak has come nearly full circle – Mubarak appears close to freedom; Morsy is jailed, his Muslim Brotherhood banned; and Morsy supporters allege the current government has returned to Mubarak’s authoritarian practices.

Mubarak cleared, but drama isn’t over yet

Explaining the verdict

Judge Mahmoud el-Rashidy said he dropped charges against Mubarak because Cairo Criminal Court didn’t have the jurisdiction to try him for the protesters’ deaths.

The judge said the case that prosecutors initially referred to the court listed only el-Adly and his aides as defendants – not Mubarak himself.

But after mass protests pressured the prosecutor general to question Mubarak, a second referral was made to the court, and the two cases were merged into one.

Lawyer Hoda Nasralla, who represents the families of 65 slain and injured protesters, said the inclusion of Mubarak in a second referral should have trumped his exclusion in the first.

“The judge shied away from directly acquitting Mubarak even though he was accused of conspiring with Adly, and Adly was acquitted,” she said. “The judge resorted to formalities instead.”

‘I want only God’s retribution’

Salway El-Sayed, mother of one of the slain 2011 protesters, sat down on a sidewalk outside the court after she heard Saturday’s verdicts, praying to God to deliver justice.

She broke down in tears, her hands shaking, as she recalled her son Tamer Hanafy, who was killed in January 2011 at Cairo’s Tahrir Square – the epicenter of the uprising.

“I’m worried my son’s blood would go in vain,” she said. “Our children’s blood isn’t cheap. Their blood is precious, like any other blood.”

“I don’t want execution,” she continued. “This won’t bring back my son … I want only God’s retribution. Nothing more.”

Tahrir Square was closed to traffic following Saturday’s verdicts.

One man was killed and nine people were injured as several hundred demonstrators clashed nearby with Egyptian security forces, Egyptian Ministry of Health spokesman Hossam Abdel Ghaffar told CNN.

Police fired tear gas and bird shot at the protesters. The Ministry of Interior said police were pelted by rocks before the incident escalated.

The human rights group Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, whose lawyers represented more than 60 civil plaintiffs in the case, said that Saturday’s verdict solidified the impunity that it says security forces and their leaders enjoy.

“Justice was dealt another severe blow,” the group said in a news release.

How it started

In January 2011, throngs of Egyptians filled the streets of Cairo to decry the country’s poverty, unemployment and repression. Protesters called for Mubarak to step down but were met by a fierce and often violent government crackdown. Mubarak eventually stepped down in February 2011.

That freed up long-supressed Islamist movements, including the Muslim Brotherhood, to run for office. Morsy, backed by the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, became president in June 2012.

But Morsy was ousted in a coup about a year later amid widespread protests against his rule. Since then, Cairo’s military-installed government has banned the Brotherhood, calling it a terrorist group – an allegation it denies – and accusing it of being behind a wave of deadly attacks on police and the military.

Many Islamist and secular activists have been arrested and given lengthy sentences. A restrictive protest law and repeated deadly crackdowns on demonstrations followed.

Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the general who led Morsy’s ouster, was elected president in May after leaving the military to run for the office.

Since Mubarak stepped down in February 2011, the ailing former ruler has appeared in court numerous times on a variety of charges, often wheeled in on a gurney. His lawyers say he suffered health problems after his 2011 arrest, including a stroke, and he has served much of his prison time at a military medical facility.

In May, when a Cairo court sentenced Mubarak to three years in prison for embezzlement, his sons Gamal and Alaa were sentenced to four years each on the same charge.

All three were convicted of embezzling $18 million that was allocated for the renovation of presidential palaces. The Mubaraks have insisted they are not guilty.

Journalist Sarah Sirgany reported from Cairo; CNN’s Jason Hanna and Holly Yan reported and wrote from Atlanta. CNN’s Ian Lee and Yousuf Basil contributed to this report.