One more committee
Is last week's presidential decree re-opening investigations into the killing of protesters a PR exercise or an attempt to uncover the truth? Mohamed Abdel-Baky investigates
The decree issued last Thursday by President Mohamed Mursi orders a review of investigations and trials related to the killing of nearly 1,000 protesters from 25 January 2011 until 30 June 2012, when Mursi was sworn in as president.
A 16-member committee has been tasked with reopening files not only from the 18-day uprising that toppled Mursi's predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, but from the host of clashes that ensued after the military took control. The committee comprises judges Farid El-Gazaeri, Mohamed El-Bastawisi, Mohamed Shirbash and Adel Said, doctors Mohamed Badran and Mahmoud Qbeish, a senior assistant to the prosecutor-general, a representative of the Intelligence Service, the deputy minister of interior for public security and six representatives of the families of victims.
The decree further announced that the committee would report its findings within two months of being formed.
"Eight weeks is far too little time for any committee to investigate the murder -- in different places and under widely differing circumstances -- of large numbers of protesters over an 18-month time period," says Nasser Amin, director of the Arab Centre of Judicial Independence and Law.
Amin points out that the committee's terms of reference have yet to be established. Until that happens it is unclear what authority the inquiry can exercise over the Ministry of Interior, the army and other actors in the killing of protesters. The presidential decree stated only that the committee has "all the authorities to collect necessary information and evidence", a formulation so vague as to mean nothing.
On 2 June Cairo Criminal Court sentenced Mubarak and his minister of interior, Habib El-Adli, to life imprisonment for not intervening to prevent the killing of demonstrators. At the same time it acquitted six senior Interior Ministry officials of charges of ordering police to fire on protesters.
The acquittal of El-Adli's aides enraged public opinion. Tens of thousands took to the streets last month to call for a new investigation and trial. They also demanded the replacement of the prosecutor-general, the Mubarak appointee Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud, who prosecuted the case.
Only two police officers of the 150 referred to trial since March 2011 for killing civilians are currently serving prison sentences, says Human Rights Watch.
During his election campaign Mursi repeatedly promised to ask the judiciary to review all cases related to the killing of protesters. He also pledged new trials for Mubarak and other senior regime officials thought to be involved in the killings.
In making his promises, says Cairo University professor of law Atef El-Banna, Mursi simply ignored the fact that he cannot order a retrial of Mubarak or any of El-Adli's aides unless new evidence emerges that warrants the case being reopened.
Mursi's committee is just the latest of several fact finding commissions formed since February 2011 to investigate attacks against peaceful demonstrators.
"The move repeats mistakes made by SCAF which set up many fact finding committee over the last year and half, none of which achieved anything," says Gamal Eid, director of Arab Network for Human Rights Information.
Eid doubts either Mursi or the Muslim Brotherhood has any real intention to retry Mubarak or his closest officials. They are, he says, playing for time while attempting to mollify the public.
National Council for Human Rights head Hafez Abu Seada agrees, saying Mursi's committee will produce nothing new. "President Mursi is ignoring the work of earlier committees. The new committee will only replicate their failings to bring justice," he predicts.
The Cairo Centre for Human Rights Studies lists nine major incidents in the last 18 months in which there was heavy loss of civilian lives. They include the Battle of the Camel on 2 February 2011, when protesters were attacked by heavily armed Mubarak supporters, and October's bloody clashes in Maspero, when mostly Coptic demonstrators were mowed down by armoured vehicles. In November and December of last year protesters in Mohamed Mahmoud Street and close to in front of the Cabinet Office were attacked by security forces, while this year more than 70 people were killed in the Port Said city stadium in February. On 2 May 11 protesters died in Abbasiya after coming under attack by hired thugs thought to be plain clothed security employees.