Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, whose autocratic rule embroiled Egypt in three decades of repression until a 2011 popular uprising ended his control, was released from a Cairo prison Thursday morning.
The 85-year-old former leader departed Tora prison on the outskirts of Cairo via helicopter en route to Maadi Military Hospital, less than 10 kilometers away.
The release of Mubarak, a longtime U.S. ally whose term ended when a wave of pro-democracy protests swept the Middle East and North Africa in 2011's Arab Spring, could signal a return to his era of government, and a reversal of the ideals for which Egyptians fought and bled just two years ago.
Mohamed Morsi, the country's first democratically-elected president who was ushered into office in 2012, remains in the custody of the country's military-backed interim government. An uprising in early July of this year forced Morsi out of office.
"It's a sign that the old regime is coming back," NBC Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel said Monday on Andrea Mitchell Reports upon news that a Cairo court had cleared Morsi for release. "I don't think that the military government here wanted to see Mubarak, one of its own, die in prison."
Mubarak is not permitted to leave Egypt in accordance with a travel ban, and his assets remain frozen. He is due back in court on August 25; he faces a retrial on charges of failing to protect protesters during Egypt's 2011 revolution.
According to a report by an Egyptian commission, more than 800 people were killed and more than 6,400 wounded in the Arab Spring protests between January 25, 2011 and February 11, 2011, the day Mubarak left power.