News / Middle East

Imprisoned Egyptian Blogger's Hunger Strike Fights Military Rule

Noel King

An imprisoned Egyptian blogger will continue his hunger strike though his lawyer says he has been granted a re-trial by Egypt's military court. Michael Nabil was sentenced to three years in prison in April for insulting the Egyptian army. His case has become a rallying point for some Egyptian activists who say country's interim military government has little regard for civil rights.

Blogger Michael Nabil has been granted a re-trial. But he will again be tried in front of a military court - a venue that his lawyers and supporters see as unfair. Nabil is a civilian, they say, and should be tried by a civilian court.

What's more, Nabil is charged with insulting the army. And in Egypt, members of the army are now the country's interim rulers. After President Hosni Mubarak stepped down in February, several high-ranking military officers formed the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces - or SCAF - and assumed power in Egypt.

Nabil's lawyer Negad el-Borai says there's no way Nabil can be assured a fair trial in a military court.

"Yes, its a military court," said the lawyer. "This is a problem. Because they charge that he insulted the higher commander of the SCAF, Field Marshal Tantawi, and he's a military person and this is a part of the problems in this country. For a long, long time, we call for stop sending the civilians to the military court, but nothing happened."

Egypt's Supreme Council says military trials are necessary. They say Egypt is more dangerous following the Arab Spring protests and they want to keep social disarray in check and prevent crime rates from soaring.

In the immediate aftermath of the Egyptian uprising, members of the army were viewed as heroes by many here for their refusal to turn on the protestors who marched in Tahrir Square.

Michael Nabil was one of a few Egyptians to publicly criticize the military in the weeks after the revolution.

Shahira Abouelleil works with the Egyptian advocacy group No Military Trials For Civilians. She has been advocating on Nabil's behalf. She says Nabil's mistake was that he criticized the army at the wrong time.

"Now, what happened was, he wrote a blog and this blog was about the army and their role in the revolution and their role post [after] the revolution," said Abouelleil. "The blog was called "the Army and the people were never one hand." It was a famous chant in Tahrir that we used to chant. We used to say the army and the people are one hand. And that blog was obviously critical of that chant and of that notion."

Today, it is more common to see and hear Egyptians criticizing the military - in newspaper editorials, on television and in cafes. Many Egyptians are upset that the ruling military council has not made clear when it will hand over power to a civilian government.

Elections for a lower house of parliament are scheduled for November 28. But presidential elections may be delayed until 2013.

Army soldiers run after Egyptian Coptic demonstrators in Cairo, Egypt, October 9, 2011.
Army soldiers run after Egyptian Coptic demonstrators in Cairo, Egypt, October 9, 2011.

On Sunday, the military clashed with Egyptian Coptic Christians in downtown Cairo. At least 25 people were killed. Observers say the military attacked a peaceful Coptic protest. The military has denied the charges.

Nabil is a Coptic Christian and some analysts have observed that his re-trial may be an attempt to appease an angered Coptic minority. But his lawyer disagrees and credits media attention - and Nabil's own refusal to end his hunger strike.

Even with the promise of a re-trial, says el-Borai, Nabil will continue to refuse food. "No, he refuses to stop his hunger strike," said the lawyer. "I'm so afraid he lose his life if he continue like that. But I think that if he live even for a week, something like this, I think we will save him. Because I believe the new trial will declare him innocent."

El-Borai may be optimistic that the new trial will free Nabil. But he says it is unclear when Nabil's new trial will take place. And he says as long as it takes place in a military court, Nabil's case is part of a disturbing trend in the Egyptian justice system.


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