7-8-2011By Robert Joyce
Human Rights Defenders Program
Thousands are gathering in Egypt today demanding justice. It’s not hard to see why.
Since the revolution, thousands of Egyptians have been arrested and tried in military trials. The Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) conducts the trials through use of the much hated emergency law, which is still in effect. These trials are unfair, violate due process and deliver swift, harsh punishment for what are often petty offenses.
While the need for law and order in post-revolution Egypt is essential to stability, a recovering economy, and political development, the SCAF should move away from Mubarak era practices and embrace true justice. Ending the unfair trials of civilians by military courts is necessary to continue Egypt’s move to democracy.
In stark contrast to the swift pace of Egypt’s military trials is the slow grind of justice for the families of the 846 victims of violence killed during the revolution. No Mubarak regime official has been convicted for any of these deaths, and the only individual convicted, a low level police officer, is still at large. All individuals currently charged with violence are being tried under Egypt’s civilian system, which allows for greater flexibility and defendant rights. While the use of civilian courts is commendable, the delays experienced are inexcusable. Multiple trials, including that of the former Interior Minister Habib al-Aldy, have been delayed. Most recently, the delay in the trial of police in Suez accused of killing protesters led to clashes between protesters and police.
Delays now mean that trials will not resume until after the month of Ramadan, in September. The danger is that with parliamentary elections scheduled for September and the Egyptian judiciary likely to be assigned to supervision of the elections, the trials could well be delayed again. Following elections, it is possible that the political climate will be more sympathetic to former regime officials and security forces, leading to mounting concerns that justice delayed now will mean justice denied later.
A more imminent danger of delay has been seen recently in Suez and is on display now in Tahrir Square. After the announced delay of the Suez trial, protestors stormed the streets and were in turn met with violence. This also occurred in Tahrir last week when a demonstration by victims’ families sparked clashes with police. The snowball effect of street demonstrations can be dangerous. The outrage of victims’ families, who have yet to see justice, is a cause that many Egyptians can sympathize with, and protests will continue to gain widespread support until these trials move forward. The SCAF must prove that, unlike under the previous regime, security forces, including police and army, are not above the law by vigorously pursuing these prosecutions. The recent announced shake-up of the police force is a positive step, but comprehensive reform—making all security forces subject to the law—is necessary to build confidence in the transition to a democratic, just state.