The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Nor Trial Development


So I am a couple days late.

After the Zaytoun protest on Wednesday, I was drained. At the post-protest festivities I could hardly concentrate. As I left, I told friends I doubted I was going to Ayman the following day. Fresh off the uncomfortable experience of Ayman's first day at trial, I dreaded the thought of it.

So, I slept in.

I got up, had my coffee, and looked at the mobile. Should I do it, I thought. Before thinking it through and like an addict with a problem, I rang two of my journalists friends at the court.

They told me they were in the courthouse but were barred from entering the courtroom. As one said to me, "There is some mysterious list."

I changed clothes, grabbed my camera and thought I'd join them for a bit. Besides, the Y4C was meeting at the syndicate at noon. If there was nothing interesting at the court, I could always take it to the syndicate.

I arrived and things were busy but much more sedate than Tuesday. Security was not doing a better job at crowd control but there was extra barriers of Amn Markazi lines so it gave a false appearance of order.

Meeting my friends, I had half a notion to go. Standing in a hallway seemed pointless. Then one friend said, "let's try again" as she referenced getting into the courtroom.

One of the al-Ghad organizers took us over to the security separating people from the hallway connected to Ayman's courtroom. I had my camera out but did not say a word. All of the sudden some general said "right this way sir." I politely said I was "with other journalists." They were let in as well.

We got into the courtroom and it was a piece of paradise compared to Tuesday's hot, smelly, unorganized circus (In Arabic, the saying goes "al-Moulid was Sahib Ghayb").

I saw some reporter and photographer friends. I also bumped into some friends from various embassies there to watch the trial. As with Tuesday, the room's acoustics were rubbish. So you could not hear anything. As I whispered with friends and enjoyed the room to move around the court (like in the days of Saad Ibrahim), I heard Gamila Ismail - who was standing on a window seal for a better vantage point - loudly say, "Ya Salam" as a smile broke out on her face.

In the cage with Ayman Nor are five other codefendants. But it is more complicated than that. The other five argued on Tuesday that Ayman Nor directly ordered them to forge party membership lists. They are all pleading guilty as Ayman pleads "not guilty" and argues that he never saw these people before in his life.

The prosecution has been trying to paint Ayman as a life-long forger as well as stooping low enough to question Ayman's "alleged" father (who is, in fact, his real father). Even the staunchest apolitical Mubarak-supporter I know said "that's ill-mannered by the government" to question of Ayman parental lineage.

It is character assassination par excellence.

Gamila's "Ya Salam" and smile was triggered in reaction to one of the codefendants speaking out to change his plea. The courtroom buzzed as the media rushed the cage.

Ayman Ismail Hassan is defendant number three. He hails from Shubra and has a petty criminal record. According to Ismail, he had never met Nor, did not receive orders from Nor to forge, and had not participated in the alleged forgery of party lists. He said that the government pressured him and promised to erase his criminal record if he turned state's evidence against Nor. Ismail looked scared and said that the security services put pressure on him and threatened his two small nieces if he refused to cooperate. He said he was unsure of what would now happen to him.

The pressure on Ayman Ismail had been too much as he stepped into the role of government deal-breaker.

The judge Adel Abd al-Salam Guma watched the chaos erupt, called for the court to recess until 6 July, and left the courtroom.

As the crowd and defendants waited for further word from the judge who entered and left shortly there after again, media and observers got quotes from the Aymans, the attorneys, and Gamila. The prosecution slipped out the front door.

If this case looked trumped-up initially, there are definitive allegations that the state is tampering with defense witnesses as they conspire against Ayman. People are going to have a tough time believing the trial's outcome should it go against Ayman.

For a while in the courtroom, it looked like another defense witness was going to turn to Ayman's side.

After about 30-40 minutes, Ayman began to hit the cage and demand to be released. He rhetorically asked, "What is this stupidity? It is over." Finally, the order was given to release him.

I stood about three feet close to Ayman from the time he was released from the cage until he departed in his car. It was insane. People were rushing to touch him and be close to him. Ayman was wishing people well and looking confident. When we exited the courthouse, a smile broke on his face upon seeing his supporters.

We walked to a security closed section and Ayman demanded they part the way. They refused so we carried on in the heat towards the small exit designed to allow one person out at a time.

The crush of people was incredibly intense. I have never felt anything like it. The Amn Markazi soldiers were panicking and pulling their truncheons as the wave of people tried to exit with Ayman.

As luck had it, I slipped out after Ayman at which time the security sealed the exit to prevent a mass gathering. Ayman got to his car and stood on its step demanding to speak with the the General in charge of the spectacle. He pointed forcefully at the general and said that he "better not hear of one person being beaten by security." He waved again and said "To the office," before departing.

I hailed a cab and hightailed it to the office. I was one of the first on the scene. A Ghad supporter led me into Groppi's where Ayman Nor and about 8 supporters sat enjoying juice and sandwiches. Seated to Ayman's right was Ayman Ismail. Talk was mostly congratulatory and triumphal. The state is now in a bind, they argued.

After a while, Gamila and the kids showed up as did the lead defense attorney Amir Salim.

The group then moved to Ayman's offices for a press conference where Ayman, Amir, and Ayman Ismail spoke.

I did not stay for the whole thing. I was surprised to see that al-Jazeera did not cover it later that evening as I dined with my in-laws. Instead, they reported the Egyptian-Israeli gas deal.

Similarly, Friday's official press (there is no such thing as semi-official)conveniently mentioned the development of the Nor case with a small bottom front page article linked to somewhere deep in the edition's pages.

The trial resumes on 6 July....But the state now looks to be on trial rather than Ayman.

Saad used to say things like this when he was on trial between 2000-03. Ayman also said the court case would lead to putting the regime on trial last Tuesday.

But nothing this embarrassing ever surfaced before that made the political prisoners' arguments look more than moralistic appeals expected from anyone in such a position of suspect justice.


Pictures from the Nor Trial Developments are located here.


More to come