By Tom Perry
CAIRO (Reuters) - Hosni Mubarak's fall from grace has culminated in incarceration in the Cairo prison that housed leading political dissidents of his era - a twist of fate that some of them have called "divine justice".
Mubarak, 84, spent his third day in Tora Prison on Tuesday, serving the first days of a life sentence handed to him on Saturday by a judge who ruled he was at least partly to blame for the deaths of hundreds of Egyptians killed in the uprising that removed him from power in February last year.
Unimaginable 16 months ago, Mubarak's detention at Tora is a historic moment for both Egypt and the region, even though it has been partly eclipsed by controversy over the verdict. Ayman Nour, a politician held at the same jail for four years by the Mubarak administration, said "God's justice" had been served.
Reflecting a popular, bordering on morbid fascination with Mubarak's fate, Egypt's best-selling newspapers are brimming with reports detailing the former leader's first days in the prison's hospital wing.
Mubarak's wife, Suzanne, visited him on Monday, accompanied by the wives of his two sons, Gamal and Alaa, both of whom have been detained since investigations into separate corruption allegations against them got under way last year. Mubarak had been held at a military hospital during his trial.
"They brought me here to kill me," Mubarak told Suzanne, according to the front page of Al Masry Al Youm, quoting unnamed sources. "In Tora, Suzanne screams: Don't forget Mubarak is a hero of the October war," declared Al-Youm Al-Sabie, another daily, also citing an anonymous source and referring to the 1973 war against Israel.
"The media are competing for who has the juiciest story on what happened to Mubarak," said Hisham Kassem, a publisher and political commentator. "The competition between the media is over that, not over the implications of it," he said.
Mubarak and Habib el-Adli, his former interior minister, were sentenced to life on Saturday for what the judge described as a failure to stop the killing during the uprising that erupted on January 25, 2011 and ended 18 days later when the former president stepped down and handed power to the army.
The charges had been stronger: that Mubarak and other top officials had ordered the killing. But the judge said the evidence presented was not strong enough to indicate official instructions were given, leading to the acquittal of top security officials and triggering anger in the streets.
Gamal and Alaa also had a corruption charge against them quashed but remain in jail over another case.
The Egyptians who took to the streets against Mubarak fear he could himself get off at appeal.
Yet Mubarak's imprisonment, many say, has already sent a powerful message to whoever replaces him as president.
"This is the first time that a pharaoh goes to jail at the hands of his own people," said Saad Eddin Ibrahim, an academic and activist who was jailed in the Mubarak era.
"It is divine justice, having been pursued, committed to the same prison 12 years ago by the man who was determined to destroy me," Ibrahim told Reuters.
Ibrahim spent three years in Tora, sentenced on trumped-up charges he says were the result of a vendetta touched off by an article he wrote asserting that Mubarak was readying Gamal to succeed him. Ibrahim was one of the first to speak out about what became known as a plan for the "inheritance power".
Tora had been a destination for the full spectrum of political dissidents during Mubarak's 30 years in office. Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh, an independent Islamist who mounted a strong bid for the deposed president's job, was once held there.
Built on Cairo's southern outskirts, the prison is hidden from sight by an imposing wall. Military helicopters were buzzing over the facility on Monday.
Prison officials said Suzanne had brought Mubarak his own set of blue clothing after he had refused to wear the prison uniform of the same color. On Tuesday, Gamal was moved to a room alongside his father after suffering an unspecified psychological breakdown, a security source said.
"There are flaws in the verdict, but Mubarak going to prison remains a historic moment in the history of this nation," said Nour, who went to jail on inflated forgery charges after he ran against Mubarak in a 2005 presidential election.
"I don't feel joy but I feel that God's justice has been realized, though justice in Egypt has yet to fully be achieved."
(Editing by Mark Heinrich)