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Egyptian Court Drops Corruption Charge Against Mubarak


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

We begin this hour in Egypt, with news on multiple fronts. Twenty-six policemen were killed over the weekend in what officials call a terrorist ambush near the Rafah border crossing with the Gaza Strip. The attack came just hours after three dozen members of the Muslim Brotherhood died while in police custody near Cairo.

Meanwhile, ousted President Mohamed Morsi faces new charges, and his predecessor Hosni Mubarak could soon be released from custody. NPR's Peter Kenyon joins us from Cairo to sort through it all. And, Peter, let's start with that deadly attack on Egyptian police in the Sinai. What more have you learned?

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Well, these were off-duty policemen. They were being transported in two buses not far from the border with Gaza when the vehicles were attacked. It was called a grenade and machine-gun attack, the policemen shot and killed. It was a shocking blow to the police. The bodies have now been returned to Cairo. And the government, which is already focused on what it calls mounting terrorist attacks, has vowed a swift response.

CORNISH: Is there any sign that those Sinai killings were actually a response to Sunday's deaths of three dozen Muslim Brotherhood prisoners?

KENYON: Well, there hasn't been any direct link so far, but the Muslim Brotherhood is voicing outrage at those prisoner killings. That happened, the state says, during an attempted escape, but the Brotherhood said it was a deliberate assassination. And although there is no clear tie between the Brotherhood and the Sinai militants, the government is already lumping it all together under the war on terrorism campaign, and Egypt's Islamists will likely use these prisoner deaths to call for more action on their side.

CORNISH: Peter, the death toll is now over 900. It's attracted widespread condemnation. And most of the dead were killed in the government's crackdown on pro-Morsi camps. How is the government responding?

KENYON: Well, mainly, the government is highlighting their deaths, the security personnel included in the body count, which at the moment seems to be over 100 police killed and nearly 700 injured. Nonetheless, human rights groups continue to focus on the government, condemning what they call the use of excessive lethal force. Human Rights Watch today says the use of live ammunition on such a large scale went against basic policing standards and wasn't justified by the unrest, and they meant in particular the clearing out last Wednesday of those two pro-Morsi sit-ins.

CORNISH: And despite the wave of condemnation, the Egyptian military and government continue to get support from regional Arab states, right, especially Saudi Arabia. Is that giving Egyptian officials reassurance in the face of Western threats to withhold aid?

KENYON: I think it is, despite Egypt's insistence that they are not worried about any aid that comes with political strings attached. Some in the U.S. and the EU have pressed for a cutoff, but Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal today said Saudi Arabia will not shy away from lending a hand. And this could be largely symbolic at this point, we're not sure, but it is a clear sign that these wealthy Gulf Arab states who were alarmed by the Arab Spring a couple years ago are now convinced that the Egyptian military offers the best hope for stability, and they're willing to foot whatever bills need to be paid to make that happen.

CORNISH: And can you bring us up to date on the legal developments? More bad news for Mohamed Morsi and possibly good legal news for Hosni Mubarak.

KENYON: That's right. Morsi's had his detention extended for another 15 days, but this time, it's on new charges of inciting violence. He already faces charges relating to a 2011 prison break, and now apparently a new case is being prepared. His supporters haven't seen him since his ouster on July 3rd. Meanwhile, Hosni Mubarak may be pleased by suggestions that there may soon be no longer legal grounds to keep him in custody.

He was convicted of and sentenced to life in prison for failing to stop the killing of hundreds of demonstrators in 2011. That was overturned on appeal, now being retried. But the legal limit on his detention has expired, so the government may soon find itself scrambling to find a way to keep him in custody.

CORNISH: Before I let you go, Peter, can you tell us a little about the mood in Cairo, given these events these last two days?

KENYON: Well, people are trying to get back to normal but it's not really possible. There's a curfew every night. There's vigilantes at roadblocks. There's impossible traffic even by Cairo standards. And there is this mounting body count that's happening. There were more marchers again today, and people are wondering when it's all going to end.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Peter Kenyon in Cairo. Peter, thank you.

KENYON: You're welcome, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.
Over two decades of journalism, Audie Cornish has become a recognized and trusted voice on the airwaves as co-host of NPR's flagship news program, All Things Considered.