Saturday,21 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1177, (19 December 2013 - 1 January 2014)
Saturday,21 October, 2017
Issue 1177, (19 December 2013 - 1 January 2014)

Ahram Weekly

All the presidents’ crimes

2013 will be remembered as the year in which two former presidents faced trial on charges of inciting violence and killing protesters, reports Gamal Essam El-Din

Egypt
Egypt
Al-Ahram Weekly

'If someone puts their hands on you make sure they never put their hands on anybody else again'

– Malcolm X


Egypt’s ousted former president Hosni Mubarak returned to court last week when his trial resumed on charges related to inciting violence and the killing of more than 800 protesters during the 25 January Revolution in 2011 that led to his removal from power.

Mubarak was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in June 2012 for failing to stop the 2011 killings, but his sentence was overturned on appeal last January on the grounds of procedural irregularities and a retrial was ordered.

Last Saturday and Sunday, the Cairo Criminal Court was scheduled to hold secret sessions to hear the testimonies of Hussein Tantawi, the former head of the former ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), and Sami Anan, the former chief of staff of the Armed Forces.

Tantawi and Anan will testify on whether Mubarak issued them direct orders to open fire on the pro-democracy protesters who had gathered in their thousands in Cairo’s Tahrir Square in January 2011 to demand his removal.

Former head of military police Hamdi Badeen is also scheduled to testify on Monday.

While he was chairman of the SCAF in 2011, Tantawi testified in the first trial of Mubarak in a closed hearing and maintained that “Mubarak never issued the Armed Forces orders to kill protesters during the 18-day revolution, and we would never have done so.”

In November, the court heard the testimonies of two other ex-officials in a closed hearing and under a gagging order on media coverage, these being former prime minister Ahmed Nazif and former director of the General Intelligence agency Murad Muwafi.

Many expect that, like Tantawi in 2011, Nazif and Muwafi testified that they had not been ordered by Mubarak to carry out violence against the protesters.

Wafaa Nessim, an ex-assistant foreign minister, also testified last November, saying that Egypt’s embassy in Ramallah had tracked orders issued by the Islamist leaders of Hamas in Gaza asking its militants to infiltrate Egyptian borders during the 2011 revolution, with the aim of releasing Muslim Brotherhood prisoners and spreading chaos.

In addition to its hearing of Muwafi, the court earmarked sessions on 19, 20 and 21 October to hear the testimony of Mubarak’s former prime minister Atef Ebeid, former interior minister Ahmed Gamaleddin, current Petroleum Minister Sherif Ismail, and former SCAF member Hassan Al-Roweini.

Like Mubarak, Egypt’s former Islamist president Mohamed Morsi has also been put on trial on charges related to inciting violence and killing peaceful demonstrators who had gathered in their thousands in December 2012 to protest against a constitutional declaration in which he had tried to place himself beyond judicial scrutiny.

Morsi’s trial opened on 4 November and is scheduled to resume on 8 January.

Morsi is also expected to face another trial based on accusations that he collaborated with Hamas in the attacks on Egyptian prisons in 2011.

Although Mubarak and Morsi face similar charges, analysts see great differences between the two trials.

Sameh Seif Al-Yazal, chair of Al-Gomhuriya Centre for Strategic and Security Studies, said that “in Mubarak’s first trial, the court stated that all testimonies had showed that he had not issued orders for officials to open fire on protesters, but it said it would send him to prison for 25 years because as president he had failed to prevent the killings.”

“It is not clear whether the court has any new evidence that might lead it to ask for the execution of Mubarak” as a result of the second trial, Al-Yazal added. “I do not think that the former military officials will have anything new to disclose or that might show in any way that they were directly ordered by Mubarak to shoot the protesters.”

Mubarak’s lawyer, Farid Al-Deeb, has indicated that “all previous testimonies and fact-finding reports prepared by independent judicial authorities have shown that Mubarak never issued orders for the killing of protesters or inciting violence.”

“Even Mubarak’s former associates, who were accused of inciting violence during the so-called ‘Battle of the Camel’ in Tahrir Square during the January Revolution, were acquitted of the charges,” Al-Deeb told the private TV channel Al-Mehwar.

“Mubarak will be finally acquitted of any charges of manslaughter or inciting violence. In addition to the fact that most of the testimonies have come out in favour of Mubarak, the dramatic political developments that hit Egypt in 2012 will also stand in his favour,” he said.

The ousting of Morsi and the Ismailia Appeals Court ruling in June 2012 that charged the former Islamist president and 33 other Muslim Brotherhood officials with collaborating with Hamas to storm Egyptian prisons during the 25 January Revolution and spread havoc had also helped Mubarak.

“The evidence and the report made by the Ismailia Appeals Court showed that the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas had a big hand in orchestrating the violent acts during the heyday of the revolution,” Al-Deeb said, adding that “this evidence will be used by Mubarak’s lawyers to show that he was facing a conspiracy and that he never resorted to using force against the protesters.”

By contrast, Morsi and 14 Brotherhood officials are being tried on charges of inciting the murder of pro-democracy protesters on 5 and 6 December 2012. Prosecution authorities say that Morsi issued direct orders to Mohamed Zaki, chief of the presidential guard, to use force in dispersing the thousands of young demonstrators who had gathered in front of the Al-Ittihadiya presidential palace in Heliopolis in order to protest against his constitutional declaration.

The prosecution claims that telephone transcripts show Morsi not only ordering Zaki on the evening of 5 December to “disperse the protesters by force”, but they also indicate that the then president threatened to take action himself should Zaki refuse.

The prosecution cites Republican Guard officials urging Morsi to enter into dialogue with the protesters rather than to resort to violence. Former interior minister Gamaleddin told the independent daily Al-Masry Al-Youm two weeks ago that “from his first day in office, Morsi embarked upon using violence against his opponents.”

Gamaleddin said he had come under heavy pressure from Morsi during Al-Ittihadiya events to use force in dispersing the protesters, “but my orders to the Central Security Forces were that they should not use force and they should simply separate the pro- and anti-Morsi protesters.”

The prosecution alleges that in the face of the refusal to open fire on the protesters, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Guidance Bureau, headed by Mohamed Badie and his deputy, business tycoon Khairat Al-Shater, mobilised the group’s armed militias to disperse the protesters.

According to prosecutors, these militias moved quickly to attack the protesters, torching tents set up by Morsi’s opponents and killing nine and abducting 54 of them. One of the victims was press photographer Hussein Abu Deif, who was shot in the head at point blank range.

Abdallah Al-Sinnawi, a political analyst and former editor of the Nasserist Al-Arabi newspaper, said that “just as the killing of the protesters in Tahrir Square on 28 January [the ‘Friday of Anger’] and on 1 and 2 February [the ‘Battle of the Camel’] dealt a deafening blow to the Mubarak regime and finally led to its dramatic collapse, the Al-Ittihadiya palace clashes were the first nail in the coffin of Morsi’s Islamist autocracy.”

“After Al-Ittihadiya clashes and regardless of the small number of those killed compared to the hundreds who fell victim in Tahrir Square in January 2011, it became crystal clear for most Egyptians that Morsi was acting under the direct orders of the Brotherhood and that the group was a terrorist one, recruiting armed militias and a military wing to fight its battles,” Al-Sinnawi said.

He added that “Al-Ittihadiya demonstrated to all Egyptians that Morsi was just a Brotherhood figurehead president and that the group had never scrapped forming armed militias to fight its political opponents as a way of monopolising power and turning Egypt into an Islamist state.”

Salah Salem, an Al-Ahram political analyst, said that “Al-Ittihadiya palace events might have left few people dead, but its prime significance lies in the fact that it revealed to all Egyptians that their country had fallen prey to an Islamist fascist group that had armed its militias to fight battles for its own political ends.”

“Al-Ittihadiya events and Morsi’s subsequent decision to issue amnesties for several high-profile militant Islamists demonstrated to all Egyptians that Morsi and his group had to leave office soon or the country would turn into an Islamist dynasty and a haven for terrorists,” he added.

Khaled Abu Bakr, a lawyer who is defending the families of the victims of Al-Ittihadiya killings, argued that “while Mubarak faces the possibility of being acquitted of the manslaughter charges or even being meted out a lighter penalty, there is strong evidence that Morsi was directly implicated in Al-Ittihadiya killings, and as a result there is a possibility that he might face execution.”

“Please remember that while Mubarak is being accused of not exercising his authority to stop the killings in Tahrir Square, Morsi faces accusations of issuing direct orders to use force in dispersing protesters and asking the armed militias of his group to crush them,” Abu Bakr said.

He said that following the trial of Morsi on 4 November, it had become commonplace to hear comparisons between Morsi and his predecessor Mubarak.

“Egyptians saw in Mubarak a man who had admitted that he had been ousted by a revolution, and as a result he had accepted that he must face trial, hoping that he would be acquitted of the charges at the end,” Abu Bakr said. By contrast, they had seen “how Morsi rushed into the courtroom shouting the word ‘legitimacy,’ refusing to admit that he had been removed from office by a popular revolution or that he was implicated in any way in criminal activities.”

Another difference between Mubarak and Morsi has been how the Western media has covered the trials. According to Al-Sinnawi, this had described Mubarak as an autocrat who had been ousted from office in an uprising and was being tried on charges of mass murder, but was claiming that Morsi had been the victim of a military coup and that his trial was being politicised.

“The trials of Mubarak and Morsi show the hypocrisy of the West and its media, which have insisted on using a system of double-standards when dealing with events in the Arab world,” Al-Sinnawi concluded.

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