News / Africa

Egyptian Civilians Caught in Military Tribunals

Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak during his trial at the police academy in Cairo, August 15, 2011
Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak during his trial at the police academy in Cairo, August 15, 2011
Elizabeth Arrott

Egyptian protesters who ended the presidency of Hosni Mubarak continue to endure one legacy of the past - an all-encompassing emergency law.  Unlike Mubarak, who is on trial in a civilian court, thousands of civilians face military tribunals.

The dismantling of Egypt's emergency law has been a key demand of anti-government protesters, and the current military rulers say they are considering its demise.

But human rights groups argue that actions speak louder than words and note that some 10,000 Egyptians have been put before military tribunals in the months since the January uprising.  That is more, they say, than during the whole of Mr. Mubarak's 29-year rule.

The government counters that the military courts, which under emergency law are allowed to try civilians, are now used only for common criminals who undermined national security during the political unrest.  It is a point adamantly rejected by political activists like Ibrahim El Houdaiby.

"Those are not thugs who are being tried via military tribunals," said El Houdaiby. "Those are our friends, our comrades, our brothers and sisters. People who have been demonstrating on the street. People who have been active and have managed to oust former President Mubarak."

The secretive nature of the military courts makes it hard to know the exact status of each case. Most defendants have no access to lawyers or others on the outside.

Certainly, criminal acts appear to have been committed during the uprising -- an event seen in real time by millions around the world.  

But people also witnessed the roundup of political protesters, during raids on Tahrir Square sit-ins in recent months, and at demonstrations outside the Israeli embassy in May.

Political activist El Houdaiby finds the reliance on tribunals for these cases particularly galling, given the treatment of members of the old guard.

"If former president Mubarak, who has allegedly killed over 800 Egyptians, ordered the death of over 800 Egyptians in a few days, not to speak of the 30 years and crimes therein, is now standing in front of a civilian court, it is inconceivable that we would accept civilians standing before a military tribunal," he said.

One activist group, which calls itself "No to Military Tribunals," has met with government officials to demand all civilian cases be moved out of the military, which has lower standards for conviction and blocks the appeal process.

In several cases, the state has obliged. But the vast majority of those arrested remain in the military system, where the detentions themselves give rise to concern.

Human rights groups allege that those held under emergency law face some of the abuses of the former government, in particular beatings and torture.  Authorities deny the charges, but defend one controversial practice - the administration of what are called "virginity tests" to female prisoners. Activists decry the practice as a rights violation. Officials say it is to protect security personnel from accusations of rape.

A political science professor of the American University in Cairo, Said Sadek, says the actions of the interim government are not surprising in a time of continuing instability, and show that even after a revolution, political culture is slow to adapt.

"They are still using the old tactics of the old regime in trying to scare people away from taking to the streets," said Sadek. "It will take time before this political culture changes and I think if the emergency laws are lifted and you have an elected parliament, a new constitution, a permanent cabinet, an elected president, the new political system will be more democratic and respecting human rights."

Such a future is, at the very best, months away, leaving many who fought for a new Egypt still suffering the worst excesses of the old.  

And activist El Houdaiby says it is not just pro-democracy demonstrators who are affected.

"I have seen them from across the political spectrum. I have seen them from the [Muslim] Brotherhood," he said. "I have seen them from the Gamaa Islamiya and all Islamist factions and even from ordinary Egyptians.  I don't want to make this a classification between revolutionists and Egyptians, because we are all civilians at the end of the day and everybody deserves a civilian court."

As for Mr. Mubarak, who appeared in court again Monday on charges that also include corruption, there may be practical reasons he is being treated as a civilian.

"Internationally they do not recognize ruling of military courts, said political analyst Sadek. "And if there is a court ruling that would require the president to bring money from abroad, they need a civilian court ruling."

On the other hand, Sadek argues, it could also be a stalling tactic by the interim government in a politically sensitive case. Civilian cases can be delayed - Mr. Mubarak's is adjourned until September - and the appeals process is lengthy.  It is a far cry from the swift and often irrevocable justice handed down by military tribunals.

You May Like

Mali's Female Basketball Players Rebound After Islamist Occupation

Islamist extremists ruled northern Mali for most of 2012, imposing strict Sharia law, and now some 18 months later, the region is slowly getting back on its feet More

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

Many Chinese-made products go unsold, for now, with numerous Vietnamese consumers still angry over recent dispute More

Koreas Mark 61st Anniversary of War Armistice

Muted observances on both sides of heavily-armed Demilitarized Zone that separates two decades-long enemies More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Students in Business for Themselvesi
X
Mike O'Sullivan
July 26, 2014 11:04 AM
They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid