Egypt's Mubarak is freed, is the revolution over?: Nahlah Ayed

The once reviled former strongman still faces murder charges. But the timing and symbolism of Hosni Mubarak's release from prison on Thursday — while his deposed successor now languishes in a cell — is not lost on anyone.

He still faces murder charges, but the symbolism of the former president's release from prison is not lost on anyone

Egyptian medics and military policemen escort former president Hosni Mubarak, 85, after after he was flown by a helicopter ambulance to the Maadi Military Hospital from Torah prison on Thursday. (Amr Nabil / Associated Press)

And so, he's out. Hosni Mubarak won't exactly be a free man — we're told he will be placed under house arrest as he waits for his next court date. But for now, he's at a hospital, not a prison cell, and soon he could sleep in his own bed and be among family.

It's all due to the former president having served the maximum pre-trial time allowed.

Still, it's quite a coup (no pun intended) for a man who stands accused in the killings of nearly a thousand of his fellow citizens. Just what must be going through his head now.

For most of his 85 years, Hosni Mubarak's life seemed to live up to the meaning of his last name — blessed — as he rose from the alleys of a dusty, Lower Egypt village to become the country's longest-sitting ruler in modern times.

In 2011, though — at the height of the Arab Spring — he was deposed by his own military, thrown in prison, and accused of corruption and the murder of protesters during the country's revolution.

No one, not least him, could have imagined such a diminished denouement to what had been a life lived large.

For the two years since his ouster, Mubarak has occasionally appeared in court to stare at his countrymen from behind dark sunglasses and the bars of a cage, a vantage point that he, as president, had reserved especially for his political opponents.

During this time, he watched silently as Mohammed Morsi, a backroom figure from the Muslim Brotherhood, who was once his prisoner, replaced him as president.

He watched, perhaps with some satisfaction, as the Brotherhood flailed about in trying to run such a mammoth, impoverished country, and failed.

The long game

But Mubarak, as always, was playing the long game. And now, as he regains some measure of freedom, at least for the time being, Morsi is the one who is back in prison, along with a significant number of the Brotherhood's leadership who are charged with being terrorists and inciting violence.

Egypt is once again firmly in the hands of its military (not that it had ever really let go). Its police and army have returned to the streets, launching a brutal crackdown on the Brotherhood, the likes of which haven't been seen since Mubarak's days.

News of Mubarak's release from prison sent shockwaves through much of the country, but excited supporters who waved posters of the old leader and the new Army Chief Lt. Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. (Amr Nabil / Associated Press)

Morsi has been deposed. A "temporary" state of emergency — a much reviled Mubarak tool — has been re-imposed. Many officials from Mubarak's time are back in their positions in the capital Cairo and elsewhere, or in new ones.

What all this means depends on who you consult.

In the military's view, these are "corrective" measures in the spirit of the 2011 revolution. And millions of Egyptians appear to agree.

For Mubarak supporters, this is also payback time. It's the undoing of what they see as two years of wrongs since he was ousted.

However, for the Brotherhood and its supporters — as for many in the international community — what is underway in Egypt right now is simply a coup, and the accompanying crackdown, a bloodbath. The Brotherhood especially calls it the return of the police state.

For many onlookers, it all smells strongly of counter-revolution. The tragic finale of the so-called Arab Spring that's repeatedly been declared dead almost since the moment it was born.

A forced choice

The terribly ill-timed news of Mubarak's release, coming on top of all the violence of the past few weeks — and on a particularly dark day when the Syrian regime is claimed to have launched a horrific chemical attack on its opponents — gives support to that view.

Mubarak's new, relative freedom also isn't sitting well with some of the army's biggest cheerleaders — many of whom were in Tahrir Square back in 2011 demanding an end to his authoritarian rule.

But will they challenge it in the streets? Many Egyptians still point to his continuing house arrest, insisting the man isn't free. They remind their fellow citizens he will still stand trial some day to answer to murder charges. The next hearing is Aug. 25.

But bringing Mubarak down had once united so many Egyptians — Islamist, secular and those in between. Many swore there would be no peace in Egypt until he was tried and convicted, and made to pay for the young lives prematurely taken away in the streets by henchmen.

But Egypt is in a different place now, the battle lines (since everyone speaks of battles) have been redrawn.

The military's declared battle against its terrorists seems to trump all else, dominating the airwaves, the newspapers, people's rights and everyday lives.

At night, the curfew keeps Egyptians at home. During the day, the tanks in the streets keep them in line.

It is this new reality that will eventually determine how far Egyptians have come (or not) in gaining their freedom: If they accept the old narrative (a long-time, winning formula among Arab dictators, including Mubarak) that security and freedom are incompatible, they are probably doomed to the old status quo pre-2011. Doomed too is any notion of a spring.

Still, there are those who hold on to a filament of hope from 2011's January 25 revolution. Yesterday, one tweeted: "Many times, we were told Mubarak was clinically dead. Many (times) we were told Jan25 was clinically dead. Mubarak is alive. And so is Jan25."

Indeed they live on. But in Egypt's future, now in the making, both are also old news.