Another ex-president on trial

Mohammed Morsi stood trial today in the same venue where Hosni Mubarak did in 2011. As I note here, there were other similarities between the cases: a heavy police presence; angry supporters outside who let off some steam journalist-beating and rock-throwing; lawyers who nearly came to blows; and journalists who very professionally called for the death penalty for the defendants.   

The defendants themselves reportedly (the trial is not being televised) chanted against the military and told journalists they have been tortured and denied access to family and lawyers. Morsi refused to wear prison whites and insisted he is still president. The judge suspended the session a couple times because of the disorder; the next court date is January 8.  

Morsi and 14 others are on trial for inciting violence that led to the death of 7 people last December, during protests against him. Incitement is a hard charge to prove. They couldn't manage to hold Hosny Mubarak responsible for anything more than failing to prevent the killing of over 800 demonstrators (who did the killing was never addressed). But I better not get started on transitional justice in Egypt or rather the scandalous lack thereof. 

Karl reMarks answers commonly asked questions about the trial: 

What charges does Morsi face?
‘Being in office while elected’, which is a severe offense against Egyptian laws and conventions. As this is not actually a criminal offence, the prosecution team has helpfully come with a professionally-typed list of trumped-up charges. 
What is the maximum penalty Morsi faces? 
This depends on the imagination of the judges. The Egyptian judicial system likes to encourage creativity and innovation. The military junta will also have a say, although this will be relayed to the judges in secret because the military are shy and withdrawing. 

 

 

On vacation in Torah

Field Marshall Tantawi (the senior army man in charge of the country) testified in Mubarak's trial this morning. We don't know what he said, because the court session are closed and there is a gag order on the press (how can what happened during the revolution be a state secret?).

I was in a cab listening to a state TV reporter excitedly (not) report on the proceedings, when my driver burst out: "They'll never be held to account!" He said his mother lives near Torah prison and from her balcony they can see the Mubarak sons and cronies being held there hang out in the courtyard. He says they have laptops, cell phones, play soccer, have visitors, get food deliveries.. I can't confirm his account of course, but there have been similar stories in the press.

"Pasha on the outside, pasha on the inside," he said. "It's Sharm El Sheikh in Torah." If only the were treated like regular prisoners, he said -- beaten, humiliated, made to go hungry and sleep on the floor -- then they'd confess and tell us where the money they stole is. 

Decoding Mubarak's trial

I have a short piece in the Guardian as part of their "decoding the news" series, in which I adress why the trial is no longer televised, what's expected in the witness testimonies, and what the clashes outside the courtoom are about. Here's the bit about the witnesses:

Initial witnesses will focus on the orders being given by Mubarak and other senior officials to deal with the mass protests that began on 25 January. What the prosecution will try to prove is that Mubarak approved of shoot-to-kill orders, the deployment of snipers, and other measures taken by security forces before Mubarak stepped down. The time period that will be most intensely examined is between 25 January and 28 January (when the police retreated from the streets and the military deployed) and the "Battle of the Camel" in Tahrir Square on February 2-3, when pro-Mubarak thugs fought (and lost) a battle to regain the square from protesters. Those who testified today are part of a group of senior ministry of interior officers who were in the ministry's operations room in the first days of the uprising.

There is some controversy over who might be summoned: among the witnesses Mubarak's lawyer wants to testify is Egypt's current interim ruler, minister of defence Mohammed Hussein Tantawi. If the already unpopular Tantawi was in the loop in the decision-making process over the repression of protesters, it could make his position untenable.

Read the rest here.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

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