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Crackdown in Cairo

Sharif Abdel Kouddous

 by The Nation

Cairo, Egypt -- Over 1,000 people were injured on Wednesday after Egyptian security forces responded to protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square with tear gas and rubber bullets. The crackdown began on Tuesday night after police reportedly beat and arrested family members of those killed during the eighteen-day uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak, at an event commemorating martyrs of the revolution. On Sunday, the family members had erupted in angry protest and hurled rocks at police vehicles after a judge in Cairo again postponed the trial of former interior minister Habib al-Adly and six of his aides.  

Al-Adly, one of the most reviled figures of the Mubarak era, was in office for fourteen years before being forced out in the early days of the January 25 revolt. Under his leadership, the Interior Ministry acted as a giant lawless militia, spying on, kidnapping, threatening, humiliating and torturing Egyptian citizens. The State Security branch employed at least 100,000 people and maintained a vast network of informants, all for the single purpose of keeping the regime in power.

In May, al-Adly was sentenced to twelve years in prison and fined close to 15 million Egyptian pounds ($2.5 million) on charges of money laundering and profiteering. He now faces charges of ordering the killing of pro-democracy demonstrators in January. If convicted, he could be sentenced to death. Mubarak himself will stand trial on similar charges on August 3.

More than 845 people were killed during the Egyptian revolution, according to official figures, and more than 6,000 were injured. Many suspect the actual number of casualties to be higher. On Monday, another name was added to the death toll when Mahmoud Khaled, a 24-year-old protester, died from injuries sustained on January 28. Khaled had been in a coma for the past five months after he was shot in the eye by police then run over by a car in downtown Cairo during the “Day of Anger” mass demonstrations.

Since last week, dozens of family members of such victims have staged a sit-in at the headquarters of the Egyptian Radio and Television Union. “They keep postponing and postponing. We’ve waited five months for some kind of justice,” said Naama (who refused to give her last name) as she held up a framed portrait of her 19-year-old son, Adel, who was shot to death on January 28. “I don’t want work or money. I want justice and accountability.”

The judge in the case, Adel Abdel-Salam Gomaa, postponed the trial on Sunday without offering any explanation. This marks the second time the trial of al-Adly and his aides has been delayed. In May, Judge Gomaa ordered the trial postponed after scuffles broke out in court. Police lined up in front of the defendants’ cage to block the seven defendants from view, provoking an outcry from human rights lawyers, who then clashed with army and police officers guarding the courtroom.

Human rights groups have also criticized a ban on members of the public—including victims and their families—inside the courtroom during the trial. Such conditions bolster the argument that Judge Gomaa does not have justice in mind. “Critics allege Gomaa had ties with the former regime,” reported Al-Masry Al-Youm on June 26. “During his tenure he issued rulings against opponents of Mubarak, such as the Egyptian-American human rights advocate Saad Eddin Ibrahim and liberal opposition figure Ayman Nour.” On June 30, the court of appeals will decide whether Gomaa will continue to preside over the al-Adly trial.

Ironically, the postponement of al-Adly’s trial fell on the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. Dozens of people gathered at the Journalists’ Syndicate in downtown Cairo Sunday night to hear testimony from victims tortured at the hands of police and state security forces operating under al-Adly’s leadership.

“I don’t think they made the connection, otherwise they wouldn’t have scheduled the trial the same day,” said Aida Seif El-Dawla, a human rights activists who runs the El-Nedeem Centre for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence. “It’s a mock trial, it’s just postponement, postponement, postponement. It’s the same as before under Mubarak, no justice.” El-Dawla showed photographs of former regime officials, pointing out that none of the senior leadership from the Mubarak era have been held accountable for torture, including ex–intelligence chief Omar Suleiman. (Suleiman played a key role in the US extraordinary rendition program in which the CIA kidnapped terror suspects from around the world and sent them to Egypt for interrogation and torture.)

With al-Adly’s trial postponed, all eyes now turn to another high-profile case: the trial of two officers charged in connection with the death of Khaled Said, perhaps Egypt’s most famous police brutality victim. Said, a 28 year-old businessman, was beaten to death by two plainclothes policemen outside an Internet cafe in Alexandria. After the police initially tried to cover up his death, pictures of Said’s badly disfigured face began circulating on the Internet, sparking protests and helping to pave the way for the January 25 revolution. While the Obama administration made no statements condemning Said’s killing at the time, President Obama received Said’s sister, Zahraa, at the White House last week and issued a statement commemorating the sacrifices of citizens throughout the region.

An earlier session of the trial, in September 2010, was marred by the heavy presence of police forces, who stood outside the court in Alexandria brandishing wooden sticks and chanting insults about Khaled Said and his family. The trial resumes on June 30, but no one expects the same brash display by the police, who lost their veneer of power and impunity after being forced into a full retreat in the face of the mass uprising in January. A verdict in the Khaled Said case is expected Thursday. Egyptians are waiting to see if justice will be served.

© 2017 The Nation

Sharif Abdel Kouddous

Sharif Abdel Kouddous is an independent journalist based in Cairo. He is a Democracy Now! correspondent and a fellow at The Nation Institute.  Follow his website Egypt Reports. Follow him on twitter: @sharifkouddous

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