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

Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Seen as a potential driver of recovery, Cairo’s plan to expand waterway had been raising hopes to give country much needed economic boost More

Ebola Maternity Ward in Sierra Leone First of its Kind

Country already had one of world's highest maternal mortality rates before Ebola arrived, virus has added even more complications to health care More

Malaysia Flight 370 Disappearance Ruled Accident

Aircraft disappeared on March 8, 2014; with ruling, families of 239 passengers and crew can now seek compensation from airline 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.
Groundbreaking Hand-Painted Documentary About Van Gogh in Productioni
X
George Putic
January 29, 2015 9:43 PM
The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Groundbreaking Hand-Painted Documentary About Van Gogh in Production

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Super Bowl Ads Compete for Eyes on TV, Web

Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 1) is about more than just the NFL's American football championship and big parties to watch the game. Viewers also tune in for the world famous commercials that send Facebook and Twitter abuzz. Daniela Schrier reports on the social media rewards for America’s priciest advertising.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Freedom on Decline Worldwide, Report Says

The state of global freedom declined for the ninth consecutive year in 2014, according to global watchdog Freedom House's annual report released Wednesday. VOA's William Gallo has more.
Video

Video MRI Seems to Help Diagnose Prostate Cancer, Preliminary Study Shows

Just as with mammography used to detect breast cancer, there's a lot of controversy about tests used to diagnose prostate cancer. Fortunately, a new study shows doctors may now have a more reliable way to diagnose prostate cancer for high risk patients. More from VOA's Carol Pearson.
Video

Video Smartphones About to Make Leap, Carry Basic Senses

Long-distance communication contains mostly sounds and pictures - for now. But scientists in Britain say they are close to creating additions for our smartphones that will make it possible to send taste, smell and even a basic touch. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.
Video

Video Crowded Republican Presidential Field Off to Early Start for 2016

It seems early, but the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign is already heating up. Though no one has officially announced a candidacy, several potential Republican contenders have been busy speaking to conservative groups about making a White House run next year. Many of the possible contenders are critical of the Obama administration’s foreign policy record. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid