Monday,16 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1124, 29 November - 5 December 2012
Monday,16 July, 2018
Issue 1124, 29 November - 5 December 2012

Ahram Weekly

In the absence of detail

Was President Mohamed Morsi’s decree providing for fresh investigations into crimes committed against protesters a cynical attempt to cover partisan aims, asks Gamal Essam El-Din

Al-Ahram Weekly

Articles 3, 4 and 5 of President Mohamed Morsi’s controversial 22 November decree which placed his edicts beyond judicial appeal until a new constitution is approved had the predictable effect of uniting the notoriously fractious opposition. Article 1, which allows for the reopening of investigations and prosecution of Mubarak-era officials for their role in the killing of protesters and “crimes of terror committed by those who held political or executive position under the former regime”, while it may well have been intended as a sweetener, begs more questions than it answers. It has been described as the drop of honey in a cup of poison, though how the president expects the honey to work on a practical level is anyone’s guess.
Article 1 is supposed to work in tandem with the law on the protection of the revolution which states that special “revolution protection courts” are to be set up to conduct hearings into “crimes committed against revolutionaries”. An hour after Morsi’s decree was issued on 22 November the newly-appointed Prosecutor-General Talaat Ibrahim disclosed that he had ordered fresh investigations into president Hosni Mubarak and his interior minister, Habib Al-Adli. Mubarak and Al-Adli were sent to 25 years in prison last June after they were found guilty of manslaughter during the 25 January Revolution. The trial, which lasted for 10 months, ended with Mubarak’s two sons, Alaa and Gamal, and five former police chiefs being acquitted of all charges, including those of illegal profiteering.
Ibrahim also ordered that investigations into 30 leading officials of Mubarak’s now-defunct ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), acquitted last month of any involvement in planning the “Battle of the Camel”, be reopened.
That Mubarak and Al-Adli escaped death sentences caused uproar among swathes of the public, as did the acquittal of the former president’s lieutenants. Accusing fingers were pointed at the Mubarak-era prosecutor-general Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud. Essam Al-Erian, a leading official of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, joined many opposition figures in demanding the removal of Mahmoud “in order to rid the prosecutor’s office of Mubarak loyalists”.
But the problem of failed prosecutions against Mubarak-era figures, including a host of security officers accused of killing protesters, cannot be laid solely at Mahmoud’s door, say liberal commentators.
“The real dilemma is that the intelligence agencies have consistently failed to provide prosecutors with the evidence needed to convict former officials,” chairman of the Lawyers Syndicate Sameh Ashour told a television programme on Sunday.
Ashour went on to say Morsi was using crimes committed against revolutionaries as an excuse to accrue sweeping powers.
“The main aim of the decree is to place Morsi’s actions beyond any judicial review. In a bid to contain public anger Article 1 was patched together as a sop to the inevitable outrage. But the simple fact is nobody knows how it is to be implemented,” said Ashour.
Mahmoud, fired as prosecutor-general by Morsi on Thursday, told a gathering held by the Judges Club on 24 November that he had attempted to gather evidence against Mubarak and other members of the NDP only to be thwarted at every term by the intelligence agencies. He also pointed out that investigations into the Battle of the Camel had never been his remit but were undertaken by an independent investigative judge appointed by the minister of justice.
“Those who have accused me of hiding evidence or concealing documents that incriminate Mubarak-era stalwarts are spreading lies. Their goal is to distract attention from Morsi’s repeated attempts to concentrate all power in his hands,” said Mahmoud. He went on to challenge Morsi to open investigations into all the crimes committed during the revolution.
“If Morsi is so keen on protecting the revolution why does he refuse to condone any investigations into the torching of police stations or the plundering of courts during the uprising?” asked Mahmoud. “I know why. It is because members of his own group [the Muslim Brotherhood] were behind the attacks.”
Meanwhile, journalist and historian Salah Eissa rang alarm bells over any moves to set up revolutionary courts.
“Revolutionary courts in Egypt have always been used as a tool to attack the regime’s political opponents,” Eissa told Al-Ahram Weekly. “Their purpose has never been to achieve justice or vindicate those who object to the status quo.”
“Exceptional courts established in the wake of the 1952 Revolution conducted hearings in the absence of any guarantees of a fair trial. They sent innocent people to prison for long stretches. Their only achievement was to stoke resentment and fear of the regime.”
“How,” asks Eissa, “does Morsi intend to establish his revolutionary courts. And what mechanisms will they have to gather new evidence or documents to incriminate Mubarak?”
“Setting up exceptional courts without guarantees for a fair trial will trigger an international outcry from democratic states and human rights organisations. These courts will only serve to give the impression that Morsi’s regime is undemocratic and authoritarian.”
“Surely,” says Eissa, “energies should be focussed on rebuilding Egypt. We cannot afford to dissipate energy in a series of vendetta trials.”
On 26 November Ibrahim, the new prosecutor-general, announced that extraordinary courts will be convened  “only if new evidence emerges about crimes committed during the revolution”.

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