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Military trials of civilians in Egypt under strong attack

Political groups and prominent figures of all stripes ramp up the criticism against the ruling military council, saying the military trials of civilians threatens the road to democracy and the principles of Egypt's revolution

Salma Shukrallah, Tuesday 16 Aug 2011
Protests at military headquarters
Egyptian protesters confront army soldiers in front of the state security headquarters in the centre of Cairo during Egypt's revolution earlier this year. Amr Abdallah Dalsh / Reuters
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Several political groups and public figures have launched a strong attack on the military trials of civilians after activist Asmaa Mahfouz was referred to a military court on Tuesday and released on a LE20,000 bail on Sunday.

Mahfouz, accused of inciting violence against the military and insulting members of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, was summoned by the military prosecution.

The military’s action against Mahfouz has angered many; reviving support for the campaign against the trials. According to the No to Military Trials Campaign, more than ten thousand civilians have received prison sentences through military prosecution in the past six months.

Mahfouz was not the first activist to be tried in a military court. Journalists Hossam El-Hamalawy and Rasha Azab were previously summoned by the prosecution but faced no charges. Activists arrested in demonstrations and sit-ins were tried by the military and some received prison sentences, varying between six months and five years in length. Although Mahfouz is the first to be referred to a military trial, facing accusations of criticising the military council, she might not be the last.  

While many have been strongly outspoken in their rejection of the military trials, some political groups and figures have chosen to remain silent. These groups were mainly from the Islamist camp. On Tuesday, though, after the case of Mahfouz, previously silent groups, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, have spoken out and others who were previously critical, have increased their attack.

Similarly, Islamist presidential hopeful, Sheikh Hazem Abu Ismail, objected to the trial on his Facebook page, writing, “we are all Asmaa Mahfouz.” He says he will remain an enemy of the military council for as long as they continue to send civilians to military courts. 

Writer Alaa El-Aswany opposed to military trials for months now, increased his criticism by writing several statements on his twitter account. He argues that military trials are currently being used to pressure those who oppose the military council. He said that it was unfortunate that in post-revolution Egypt, people could lose a few years of their lives, stuck in military prisons, just because they joined a peaceful protest.

Activist Nawara Negm wrote a harsh critique of the military council in Tahrir newspaper, asking them to remember that if it were not for people, such as Mahfouz, who participated in the revolution, the military would not be in the position of power it is now. She wrote that she regrets the day she chanted for the military, as a supporter of the revolution. She also stated that military council member, Hussan El-Reweiny, should be tried for inciting violence against demonstrators, which led to the death of Mohamed Mohsen, the 23-year-old killed in a protest against the military council.

Presidential hopeful Mohamed ElBaradei also wrote on his twitter account: “Military trials for young activists, while Mubarak & Co. stand before civilian courts, is a legal farce. Don't abort the revolution”. He warned that the path to democracy is being hampered.

The case against Mahfouz seems to have generated a general consensus amongst political forces in Egypt, making the quest to end the military trials of civilians a target that most agree upon.

El-Aswany has suggested that political groups should put their differences aside and campaign together to bring the military trials of civilians to an end. 

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