Almost all figures implicated in the notorious “Battle of the Camel”, on February 2, have been jailed pending more investigations, with accusations of premeditated and attempted murder widely expected to result in death and long jail sentences against the perpetrators.
Many Egyptian cities witnessed pervasive organised terrorism during the January 25 Revolution. Vehicles ran people over and pedestrians were gunned down in drive-by shootings, but among all crimes committed by the tyrannical 30 year rule in its last few days, the Battle of the Camel undoubtedly stand out in the mind’s eye as the worst.
With one group wielding swords and cudgels mounted on horses and camels, and another throwing Molotov cocktails and sniping from higher locations a group of hired thugs killed and injured hundreds of the peaceful protesters in a vicious attack that saw the revolutionary youth stand their ground and capitalise on their numerical advantage to chase off and even capture some of the murderous intruders.
The exact roles of the defendants charged with involvement in the atrocity have yet to be unveiled, but basically there were masterminds, others who implemented the plan and those who were sent into battle and acted as mercenaries. Legal penalties are expected to be determined based on which category each culprit belongs to.
Masterminds from the Mubarak clique
The masterminds are the elite of toppled president Hosni Mubarak’s oligarchy. Safwat El-Sherif, minister of information for 22 years and chairman of the Upper House for seven, is understood to be the main instigator. The henchman allegedly ordered former regime National Democratic Party (NDP) MPs representing El-Haram in the Parliament and Shura Council (Upper House) – Abdel-Nasser El-Gabri and Youssef Khattab – to gather the horsemen from their district for the battle.
Mubarak’s erstwhile heir apparent and younger son, Gamal, is also accused of inciting police forces and hooligans to fire live rounds on protesters in Tahrir Square on 28 January (dubbed “The Friday of Rage”) and once again before the 2 February Battle of the Camel. Also believed to have masterminded the attacks are former parliament speaker Fathi Sorour and long-time loyal head of Mubarak’s office, Zakaria Azmi.
Ousted president Mubarak reportedly tried more than once to persuade military forces to shoot down protesters, only to see his demand ignored. Nonetheless, the troops’ attitude during the Battle of the Camel was passive. According to numerous first-hand accounts and media reports, they neither defended the peaceful protesters nor stopped the thugs from invading Tahrir Square.
Irrespective of whether Mubarak ordered the attacks or sanctioned them, as head of state and commander in chief of the armed forces he is criminally liabel for failing to prevent them. “He [Mubarak] didn’t offer condolences to the families of the martyrs in his three speeches that followed the Battle of the Camel, and this is an indication of his involvement,” lawyer Said Median, who holds a PHD in criminal law, told Ahram Online. “His silence turned him into an accomplice in the crime, from a legal point of view. And, obviously, he did nothing to stop these attacks, which is also a crime.”
Former interior minister Habib El-Adly’s name was barely connected to the incident, even though he's indicted on charges of ordering the killing of demonstrators and intentionally creating a security vacuum in the country. He is also held accountable for rampant torture in Egypt over the past years. Adly was relieved of his duties and detained a few days ahead of the Battle of the Camel, in which his successor, Mahmoud Wagdi, is said to have been involved. The latter was questioned but not arrested.
The NDP enforcers
Apart from El-Gabri and Youssef Khattab, other former parliamentarians and moguls were involved in the Battle of the Camel. The likes of business tycoons Ibrahim Kamel, Walid Dyaa El-Din, Mohamed Aboul-Enein and Sherif Wali are also accused of recruiting thugs to break up the protests. The name of Cement Export Council President Hassan Rateb was also mentioned in the case, but as of press time has yet to be detained.
Furthermore, the infamous lawyer, Mortada Mansour, was heavily linked to the Battle of the Camel after a recording of him inducing thugs to attack Tahrir Square was widely circulated on the internet. Allegedly, his inflammatory speech was given right before chaos was stirred up in the epicentre of the revolution.
Later in March, Mansour, who has been jailed more than once, lashed out at the protesters while giving another controversial speech on a stage near the well-known Mostafa Mahmoud Mosque, where mercenaries and anti-revolutionaries congregated. He warned of a looming catastrophe, branding the revolt as “acts of sabotage.” His words further implicated him in the Battle of the Camel.
More significantly, many witnesses claim the ex-manpower and immigration minister Aisha Abdel-Hadi made the most of the resources at her disposal to back Mubarak, with many convinced she was pulling strings to send hooligans to Tahrir Square. She was questioned over the incident but there was insufficient evidence to detain her.
An army of paid thugs
The bottom category consists of the thugs who were either paid LE300 each or deluded, professional snipers who were given shoot-to-kill orders and a number of reportedly brainwashed citizens who participated in the brutal assault of their own accord.
According to some of the thugs, who later regretted taking part in the battle, Al-Gabri convinced stable owners in the district of El-Haram, the district where the great pyramids are, that the Tahrir Square sit-in would take a toll on tourism. The stables depend heavily on tourism for their bread and butter, taking tourists horseback and camelback past the pyramids.
Consequently, some of the stablemen decided to evacuate Tahrir forcibly, while others were paid to attack the protesters.
Mahmoud, a taxi driver, was one of those who fought protesters out of their personal beliefs. He considered the anti-Mubarak demonstrators to be the “enemies of the nation” thanks to the misleading influence of state-run media at the time.
“I have to pay the car instalments and I couldn’t work because of the sit-in,” he stated. “Therefore, I went to kick the protesters out, whom I thought of as enemies of the nation. I was even in the frontline! But later I realised what was going on and what those people have been calling for, then I felt sorry about what I did. I even spent some time in Tahrir Square afterwards.”
No escape from punishment
The former regime figureheads who were keen to cover up the years of habitual torture by police and security forces blatantly violated human rights on 2 February: not only did they fail to break up the massive 18-day sit-in that – along with widespread demonstrations all over the country – forced Mubarak’s resignation, but are also going to see their criminal acts herald their worst possible end.
The January 25 Revolution has started to bear fruit these days as Mubarak has been held captive in hospital and both of his sons Alaa and Gamal were sent to Tora Prison, along with his top cronies.
Most of the once-untouchable detainees are held culpable for the killing of citizens, whether by planning, ordering or funding various deadly attacks in order to nip the uprising in the bud. They are all going to be punished for their crimes, assures the lawyer, Median.
“The Battle of the Camel was planned, and so there has to be some leads,” he said. “One lead will take us to the next and when one culprit falls, so will another... and let’s not forget the pressure of public opinion. It’s not just this sole incident: those people are responsible for releasing inmates to terrorize people and destabilise security. They are responsible for multiple murders; they cannot get away with such crimes.
“It’s easy to know who did what during that period; I don’t think any of them will escape punishment. Those who masterminded the battle and those who executed the plan are as guilty,” Median concluded, seeming to place the blame heavily on the masterminds.