Egyptians demand SCAF trial for 2011 Maspero massacre

Osman El Sharnoubi, Wednesday 10 Oct 2012

On anniversary march to state media headquarters in Cairo, protesters repeat calls for prosecution of Field Marshal Tantawi and SCAF colleagues for the deaths of over 26 protesters in clashes with military police last October

Maspero protesters carry images of SCAF members, calling for their execution (Photo: Osman El Sharnoubi)

"Mina Daniel was murdered, and the field marshal is responsible,” 1000s of protesters chanted during Tuesday's march marking the anniversary of the Maspero massacre, which saw 26 demonstrators killed during clashes with the military police near Cairo's state media headquarters.

Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi was head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) which ruled Egypt from after the revolution until the inauguration of President Morsi in June 2012.

Mina Daniel, an iconic Coptic and leftist activist, was among the 26 people who died near the Maspero radio and television building on 9 October 2011. The demonstrators, mostly Coptic Christians, had been peacefully protesting the burning of a church in Upper Egypt and calling for equal rights for all Egyptians.

Around 10,000 took part in Tuesday's march which took the same route as the one that ended in tragedy last year.

"The same place, the same people, the same day, we are here to commemorate the death of the Maspero martyrs,” said Suzan Naguib, a government employee.

"Why hasn't there been justice for the martyrs until now? How come the officers aren’t on trial?” Naguib asked. "[The SCAF] were ruling the country, now they’re not; why haven’t they been held accountable [for what happened at Maspero]?” she enquired.

Many Egyptians hold the SCAF responsible for the killings. The vast majority of dead protesters were either run over by Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs) or shot. Military officials have denied involvement in the killings, but widely circulated video footage and pictures show otherwise.

"We want a fair trial,” Naguib pleaded.

The only investigation carried out so far was led by the military itself. The military prosecution consequently found three low-ranking soldiers guilty of "involuntary manslaughter" and sentenced them to just two and three years in jail.

After the protest, dozens of activists were rounded up and charged with attacking the military. While most were released, two are still being tried for taking an automatic gun belonging to the military.

"No to a safe exit [for the SCAF], the blood of martyrs must be redeemed,” marchers chanted.

Flags and banners bearing the faces of martyrs were carried by many marchers, including one with the face of Mina Daniel painted to resemble Che Guevara, reportedly, the activist's hero. 9 October also marked the anniversary of the Argentine revolutionary's death, who was executed in 1967.

Wreaths of flowers and a model Pharaonic solar ship bearing a sail printed with the names and pictures of the martyrs were held aloft. The Theban Legion, a church group headed by priest Matthias Nasr Minquriyus sang religious chants in memory of the dead.

Peter Barakat, a member of the Maspero Youth Coalition and the Theban Legion, said: "The most important thing is the trials. Whoever did this must be held accountable; no one should stand above justice."

The fact that the military launched an investigation into their own conduct is widely regarded as a conflict of interest.

Only recently were charges filed against Field Marshal Tantawi, former chief of staff Sami Anan, former head of the military police Hamdi Badeen and current head of military police Ibrahim El-Damati in relation to the deaths.

Accompanying numerous photos of martyrs were banners demanding the death penalty for SCAF members. Some marchers carried dummies mounted with cardboard cut-outs of the SCAF generals which they later burnt.

Many Egyptians were outraged when President Mohamed Morsi awarded Tantawi and Anan prestigious state medals shortly after his inauguration.

"How do martyrs’ rights correspond with the Nile Medal?" asked Al-Azhar preacher Mohamed Abdullah Nasr, a member of Azharites for a Civil State, referring to Egypt's highest state honour, which was presented to Tantawi.

Nasr was highly sceptical of Morsi’s desire for justice. "Those ruling Egypt are not with the revolution,” he argued, mentioning Hamdi Badeen's appointment as military attaché in China.

Badeen was head of the military police which conducted the attack.

However, others were more hopeful. protester Om Nancy said Morsi had recently stated that anyone who "touched a Christian" was personally attacking him.

Nevertheless, there was heavy anti-Brotherhood sentiment at the march, with occasional chants of "down with the rule of [the Muslim Brotherhood] supreme guide.”

The march was relatively peaceful except for a few minor scuffles when vehicles attempted to pass through the crowd. There was a limited security presence and some roads were blocked to allow the march to pass unhindered.

The Maspero building was virtually security free, an unusual occurrence at such a protest.

Former Egyptian Social Democratic Party MP Ziad El-Eleimi and writer Fatma Naout spoke to the crowd and documentaries showing footage of the attacks and the notorious press conference at which the generals denied the military’s responsibility for the deaths, were played.

On this sobering note the march ended, reflecting the mood of the march which had demanded justice for 26 Egyptians killed by their own military.

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