An investigation into clashes in front of the Cabinet's headquarters last month took another turn as prosecutors summoned a number of key opposition figures for questioning, reports Khaled Dawoud
Prosecutors investigating clashes that erupted last month between army soldiers and protesters in front of the Cabinet's office on Tuesday imposed a travel ban on key opposition figures Ayman Nour and Mamdouh Hamza pending further questioning in allegations that they were involved, with others, in instigating the bloody events in which 18 people were killed and a historic library was set on fire.
Yesterday, the prosecutors also summoned for questioning over the same charges Sheikh Mazhar Shahin, a prominent cleric who was dubbed the Imam of the 25 January Revolution because of his sermons at Omar Makram Mosque near Tahrir Square; Nawara Negm, a journalist and an outspoken critic of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF); and Tareq El-Kholi, spokesman of the 6 April Movement, The Democratic Front. The three activists were joined by a group of supporters who chanted anti-SCAF slogans in front of the prosecutor's office at Al-Qahera Al-Gadida Court at New Cairo, making it impossible for the questioning session to start. Prosecutor Wagdi Abdel-Naim decided to adjourn the investigation until Sunday, 15 January. Lawyers said they expected Negm, Shahin and El-Kholi to be released on bail and banned from travelling, mainly because the charges against them were based on the testimony of eyewitnesses who claimed that they were allegedly involved in inciting protesters to attack the army soldiers who were posted near the Cabinet's Office at Qasr Al-Aini Street, and who took part in other acts of violence.
All five defendants vehemently denied the charges and insisted that the move to question them was a clear sign of escalation by SCAF against figures and groups who have been pressing the army to return to its barracks and hand over power immediately to an elected president and government. Those groups have also been calling for major demonstrations across Egypt on the first anniversary of the popular revolt which toppled Hosni Mubarak as president in less than two weeks.
Negm said that she was "proud to be summoned for questioning" and warned that SCAF was repeating the same mistakes committed by Mubarak. Negm had not only been calling for an end to SCAF's hold over power, but also sought serious investigations and the trial of army soldiers and officers involved in the death of over 80 mostly young people in a series of bloody clashes between the army and protesters between October and December. She was referring to clashes between Coptic protesters and the army in front of the state television building Maspero in which 27 people were killed in October; the clashes in mid-November at Mohamed Mahmoud Street close to the Interior Ministry in which over 40 people were killed; and the latest clashes in front of the Cabinet's Office a month ago in which 18 people were killed.
Nour, who now leads a political party named Ghad Al-Thawra, has been known for his long standing opposition to Mubarak. He ran against the now jailed former president in the first ever multi-presidential vote in 2005 and came second with nearly eight per cent of the vote. But a few months later, he was arrested and tried over forgery charges and sentenced to five years in prison. He was released in 2008 after spending three years in prison.
Nour was visibly upset over the new charges, particularly that eyewitnesses claimed in official investigations that he incited a number of protesters to set fire to the Egypt Science Institute, an old library next to the American University in Cairo in Tahrir Square that contained a huge collection of invaluable books that date back more than 200 years. Nour told reporters after leaving the prosecutor- general's office on Tuesday that he was at his home during the 16 December clashes, and that he did not take part in any way in the demonstrations. He also noted that protesters in front of the Cabinet's Office wanted to remove Prime Minister Kamal El-Ganzouri whom SCAF appointed nearly two months ago, while he had personally announced his support for the 79-year-old premier who served in the same post under Mubarak. Nour added that he was surprised that prosecutors summoned him for questioning "on the basis of one testimony by a single eyewitness who said that he heard I was the one behind the clashes in Qasr Al-Aini Street. That eyewitness did not even see or hear anything himself."
Hamza, also known for strong opposition to Mubarak and support for youth groups, like 6 April, who sparked the 25 January Revolution, was abroad in Germany when the summons was sent to his house. He told a local television station on Tuesday that he would return to Egypt on 15 January and make himself available for questioning by prosecutors. Like Nour, Hamza said he was astonished when he heard about the charges, considering that he had maintained a relatively positive relationship with SCAF and had taken part in several meetings with its commanders.
Meanwhile, Sheikh Shahin, the preacher at Omar Makram Mosque, was subject to another investigation by the minister of endowments that might lead to suspending him from preaching. The ministry issued a statement on Monday saying that Shahin would be questioned because of his alleged role in the clashes that took place last month in front of the Cabinet's Office, and also because, more recently, he welcomed presidential candidate Amr Moussa at his mosque during a Friday prayer. The ministry said that this was a violation of its rules that ban using mosques for political purposes. Shahin sharply criticised the Ministry of Endowment, saying it was now involved in practices similar to the former State Security branch of the Interior Ministry.
The crackdown on key opposition figures critical of SCAF was accompanied by a fierce campaign in the state-owned television and newspapers close to the government of the 6 April Movement and other youth coalitions who charged that the military leadership has not been responding to the main demands of the 25 January Revolution, and that they were involved in human rights violations themselves. Members of 6 April who have been leading a campaign against SCAF titled "Liars" have been attacked and beaten over the past two weeks when they tried to show people in different parts of Cairo pictures and videos of army brutality against protesters during the latest clashes in front of the Cabinet's Office. In Imbaba and Shubra, young 6 April members carried laptops showing video clips of army soldiers and officers shooting at protesters, and brutally beating female protesters. But they were attacked by pro- SCAF people who have been dubbed "honourable citizens" and forced to leave the neighbourhood. A number of activists were injured in the clashes.