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July 24, 2011

Key Egyptian Trial Postponed, Further Raising Tensions

by Al Pessin

An Egyptian court has postponed the murder trial of the former interior minister, and ordered that the man be tried together with former President Hosni Mubarak. The move is likely to further inflame protesters in Tahrir Square, who are already dissatisfied with the pace of the trials, and other aspects of the ruling military council's policies.

Related video clip: Egypt tensions

A judge read the order live on nationwide television as many Egyptians tuned in to the broadcast of the highly-anticipated opening of the trial.  Some people in the courtroom shouted their disapproval of the postponement.

The court order says former Interior Minister Habib al-Adly will be tried together with former President Mubarak.  That trial is scheduled to begin August 3, but many experts believe that, too, will be postponed.

Former minister al-Adly has already been convicted of corruption and sentenced to 12 years in prison.  As he left the court Monday in a police convoy, protesters pelted the vehicles with stones.

Both he and Mubarak are accused of murder for allegedly ordering the police to fire on demonstrators during the 18-day uprising in January and February, when hundreds of people were killed.

Tarek El-Khouly, a spokesman for one of the leading activist groups, the April 6th Movement, accused the court of acting just like Egyptian courts did during the 30-year Mubarak era - taking its orders from the top, now the ruling military council.

El-Khouly says the activists want to know the reasons for the postponement because such trials are crucial to the success of the revolution and the future of the country.  He called for al-Adly, Mubarak and other high-profile defendants to be treated just like all others accused of crimes.

Still, just seeing the once powerful interior minister and six of his top aides in prison uniforms behind bars in the defendants’ box of a courtroom met one of the protesters’ demands.  They have called for open trials, and some have complained they have not seen key former officials since they were arrested.

Mubarak had been under house arrest in his home in the Red Sea resort town of Sharm El-Sheikh, and has been in a hospital there since April.  There are indications his trial may be held in that relatively remote town, five hours drive from Cairo, rather than in the capital.

Many observers speculate the Mubarak trial will be postponed due to his reportedly poor health, and also because Egypt’s current military rulers do not want to humiliate their former boss.

In addition, the trial is scheduled to start during the Islamic Holy Month of Ramadan, when observant Muslims fast during daylight hours.  During Ramadan, relatively little work gets done, particularly when it falls during the hot summer months as it does this year.

The delay of the al-Adly trial, and the possible delay of the Mubarak trial, will likely further anger activists, and could exacerbate the splits that are emerging among protest groups.

An incident Saturday night, when protesters led by the April 6th movement were attacked by government supporters while policemen and soldiers stood by, resulted in harsh rhetoric from both sides, and sniping from some other activist groups.  One Islamist group accused April 6th of inciting the violence.

The Egyptian Center for Human Rights called on the military council to be more responsive to protesters’ demands, and called on the various activist groups to stop trying to undermine each other.