CAIRO — An Egyptian prosecutor ordered Hosni Mubarak, the toppled Egyptian autocrat, released from the Maadi Military Hospital in southern Cairo, where he has been held for much of the last six years.
But as of Monday night, Mr. Mubarak, 88, still had not left the hospital, underscoring the murkiness surrounding his status. His detention has been viewed by many Egyptians as a political matter as much as a legal one.
Mr. Mubarak led Egypt for 30 years until he was toppled in 2011. He was later prosecuted on a variety of charges, including corruption and murder, but almost all the cases eventually foundered. His only standing conviction is for his role in embezzling state funds to redecorate his family’s lavish private residences.
He appeared to be set for release earlier this month after the country’s top appeals court cleared him of responsibility for the killings of 239 protesters by police. On Monday, the Cairo prosecutor, Ibrahim Saleh, ruled that there was no longer any reason to hold him.
“As far as I am concerned, he was in prison until today, and now he is free,” Mr. Saleh said in a telephone interview.
Mr. Mubarak’s longtime lawyer, Farid el-Deeb, said on Monday that Mr. Mubarak would be released from detention in the next few days.
The freeing of one of the Arab world’s most notorious strongman leaders, a longtime American ally accused of cronyism and corruption, would be a landmark in Egyptian history. In some respects it underscores how little the country has changed, despite the tumultuous days of the Arab Spring, when millions of young Egyptians thronged the streets clamoring for a radical new direction.
Some of those frustrations were evident on Monday on social media, one of the few avenues of free speech left in Egypt, where some people were voicing bitter criticism by borrowing a phrase, “on the asphalt,” that is usually associated with the release of jailed democracy activists.
“Mubarak on the asphalt, and the youths are in prison,” a Twitter user who gave his name as Mohamed 303 wrote.
Even so, Mr. Mubarak’s supporters have lately begun to shrug off the stigma associated with his name and to praise him as a bulwark of stability. “Regardless of Mubarak’s disasters, he did not run away,” another Twitter user who gave his name as Mohamed wrote. “He appeared in court, and he did not bring strife to this country.”
Though the prosecutor’s release order was not surprising, it was undoubtedly awkward for Egypt’s current leader, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who sometimes praises the revolution that overthrew Mr. Mubarak.
As a former president, Mr. Mubarak will enjoy state protection at his home in Heliopolis, the affluent Cairo neighborhood where he lived for much of his 30-year rule. His lawyer, said that is where he will go when he leaves the hospital.
His legal woes are not entirely over. He has been implicated in a corruption case over the theft of funds from a state-run newspaper, and the Illicit Gains Authority has a long-running investigation into the sources of his wealth.
Those matters will help Mr. Sisi keep Mr. Mubarak in line, according to Hossam Bahgat, a prominent journalist who has also investigated Mr. Mubarak’s wealth. “They are keeping those cases, in case they want to punish him, or if he does something wrong,” Mr. Bahgat said.
Mr. Mubarak’s decision to cede power in February 2011 had ripple effects throughout the Arab world, and preceded the overthrow of longtime dictators in Libya and Yemen later that year. But the promise of the Arab Spring soon dissipated as Libya and Yemen plunged into chaos, Syria descended into civil war and the militants of the Islamic State used the resulting chaos to pursue their vision of jihadist Armageddon.
The first competitive, democratic presidential election in Egypt’s history brought Mohamed Morsi, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, to power in June 2012. But just 12 months later, he was ousted by military officers and replaced with Mr. Sisi, a serving general who later left the military to become a civilian president.
Under Mr. Sisi, Egypt’s courts have jailed tens of thousands of Brotherhood members, opposition activists, lawyers, journalists and other critics of his rule. The political prisoners include many of the same people who helped topple Mr. Mubarak in 2011 — a paradox that will not be lost on many Egyptians if Mr. Mubarak is indeed released. Mr. Sisi pardoned 203 prisoners on Monday who had been held for “politically related crimes,” but the list did not include any prominent opposition activists.