Gamal Essam El-Din
reports on the trials of ousted president Hosni Mubarak and 25 of his former henchmen
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Clockwise from left: chaos was predominant outside the courtroom witnessing the trial of the "Battle of the Camel"; former regime stalwarts El-Sherif and Sorour in the caged dock
Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, chairman of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), declined to appear in court on 11 September in the trial of ousted President Hosni Mubarak. The testimonies of Tantawi and Sami Anan, chief of military staff, have been postponed until 24 and 25 September.
Informed sources say a senior military justice official visited the Police Academy, where the trial of Mubarak, his two sons and former security chiefs is being held, to request the delay on the grounds that both Tantawi and Anan were too busy dealing with the ramifications of the Friday 9 September protests, particularly the fallout from the storming of the Israeli embassy in Cairo.
Judicial sources report the court rejected an offer by Tantawi to give testimony in written form. The former chairman of Cairo's Criminal Court told a television talk show that "Tantawi must come in person and appear before the court, take a legal oath and answer questions in the presence of lawyers."
Ahmed Abu Baraka, a Muslim Brotherhood lawyer, told Al-Ahram Weekly that, "it is not just a matter of questions and answers, but judges and the lawyers of defendants must see themselves how Tantawi reacts when answering questions."
"Tantawi could send Mubarak to the gallows or help him escape punishment," insisted Abu Baraka.
Mubarak forged a close relationship with Tantawi over three decades. The ousted president first appointed Tantawi as minister of defence in 1991, and promoted him to deputy prime minister after the revolution erupted on 25 January. Many believe that the relationship between Tantawi and Mubarak became strained after Mubarak began grooming his younger son Gamal to take over the presidency and there has been speculation that Gamal and Suzanne Mubarak had acted to isolate Tantawi and force his dismissal.
Statements Tantawi made during a graduation ceremony at the Police Academy last April provide hints of what his testimony may contain. "Thank God," he said, "that we [SCAF members] agreed not to take individual or haphazard decisions... and it was very difficult."
"We decided to meet at that time and exchange our views and all SCAF members were united: no, no, we will never open fire on protesters. That was our decision."
Major General Anan told a gathering of intellectuals last month that, "we know had the 25 January Revolution failed all SCAF members would have gone to the gallows".
The delay in Tantawi and Anan's testimony dismayed members of the 25 January revolution's youth movements. They have repeatedly called for the trials of members of the ousted ruling elite to be fast-tracked. Critics of the delay have suggested it signals reluctance on the part of Tantawi to pursue his old friend and boss.
The separate trial of 25 members of Mubarak's now defunct ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) on charges of organising the Battle of the Camel, one of the most notorious attacks against peaceful protesters that took place on 2 February, began on 11 September. According to the prosecution former regime stalwarts, in a last-ditch bid to retain power and curry favour with Mubarak, planned the attack which saw pro- Mubarak thugs on horses and camels armed with clubs and Molotov cocktails charge protesters. Eleven were killed and hundreds injured in one of the bloodiest days of the uprising.
Defendants in the case include Safwat El-Sherif, former chairman of the Shura Council and secretary-general of the NDP, Fathi Sorour, former speaker of the People's Assembly and a member of the NDP's politbureau, Aisha Abdel-Hadi, former minister of manpower, Hussein Megawer, chairman of the Egyptian General Federation of Trade Unions and a member of the NDP secretariat-general, Mohamed Abul-Enein, chairman of Ceramica Cleopatra Group, and Ibrahim Kamel, chairman of the Egyptian-British Bank and Kato Aromatic Group. The latter two high-profile businessmen were members of the NDP's secretariat-general and close associates of Mubarak's son Gamal. Two non-NDP figures are also defendants: Ragab Hilal Hemeida, a former MP and secretary-general of the Ghad Party; and Mortada Mansour, former chairman of Zamalek Sporting Club.
The defendants appeared caged in court on Sunday before presiding Judge Mustafa Abdel-Salam banned live television coverage of the trial.
The defendants all pleaded innocent. El-Sherif said he had no connection with the assault against protesters while Sorour said the charges against him were fabrications motivated by malice. Mansour accused Mahmoud El-Sabrout, the prosecution official who had headed the interrogation of defendants, of fabricating the case.
Prosecution authorities claim El-Sherif, a stalwart of the regime for three decades, was instrumental in mobilising NDP stalwarts into attacking the protesters.
"El-Sherif made a large number of phone calls to leading NDP members to encourage them to take part in the attacks," says the prosecution report. Sorour was involved in recruiting thugs from Al-Sayeda Zeinab, his constituency, to take part in the attack in return for payment of LE300.
Some parliamentary reporters have testified that while meeting with Sorour on the morning of 1 February, they overheard him speaking with Mubarak and former interior minister Mahmoud Wagdi on the phone, assuring them that everything was ready for the attack on Tahrir Square.