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Alaa Al Aswany

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Waiting for the Military Trial

Posted: 03/14/2012 5:11 pm

If you had a daughter, you would no doubt love her and worry about her, and you won't let anyone harm her. If you had a daughter you wouldn't put up with anyone molesting her physically and you would be prepared to defend her with your life if she was attacked. Your daughter would be part of you and closer to you than anyone else. So how would you feel if your young daughter took part in a peaceful demonstration and was arrested by soldiers who beat her up, gave her electric shocks and insulted her with a barrage of vile abuse? How would you feel if she was stripped of her clothes and made to stand naked in front of soldiers who had fun looking at her? How would you feel if you found that the jailer in the military prison had said to your daughter, "Lie down on the bed so that the officer can examine you." How would you feel when they forced your daughter to lie down so that some so-called doctor could give her a "virginity test", with the doors and windows wide open for people to watch?

Even British troops didn't commit such a crime against Egyptian women during decades of British occupation. Egyptians troops didn't do such things to the Israelis who were captured in war. This crime, unfortunately, was committed by Egyptians against Egyptian women.

On March 9, 2011, dozens of demonstrators were detained in Tahrir Square by the military police. They were brutally tortured and 17 women were sent to the military prison, where they were beaten, given electric shocks, stripped naked in front of soldiers and then given "virginity tests," which amount to first-degree rape and a blatant violation of the most basic humanitarian principles, as well as legal and military traditions. The duties of these soldiers who sexually abused our daughters and sisters should have been to defend and protect them.

The real purpose of the virginity tests was to break the spirit of the demonstrators and to humiliate them until they could no longer continue with the revolution. After the crime was committed the women were threatened by the media to keep silent and unfortunately all of them were too frightened to speak out, except for one brave woman called Samira Ibrahim, who decided to expose the criminals who abused her. When the news spread and the "virginity tests" became a big scandal, members of the Military Council initially denied they had taken place, and then they changed tack and admitted it. The threats and pressures on Samira Ibrahim intensified but only added to her resolve to demand justice. She even persuaded another victim to say what happened to her.

The problem is that the Military Council possesses the same instruments as Mubarak, with full control over the state apparatus, which it runs as it wishes. The virginity tests case was heard under the military judicial system, which (with full respect to the staff) is not independent because the judge is an officer with superiors whose orders we cannot imagine him disobeying and, furthermore, because Field Marshal Tantawi has the right to overrule verdicts and reduce sentences as he wishes. This week a military court acquitted the officer accused of abusing Egyptian women in the "virginity tests" case. This verdict means that injustice still reigns in our country. The Mubarak regime is still in power and the law is still enforced according to who you are, your social status and your political opinions.

When Samira Ibrahim went into the military prison she was surprised to find a large picture of deposed President Hosni Mubarak hanging on the wall. Samira asked the officer, "Why do you keep the picture of Mubarak?" The officer answered her with a volley of insults and added, "Hosni Mubarak is still our president and we love him."

This is the crux of the matter. The Military Council really does belong to the Mubarak regime, in the way it thinks and in what it says, and for a full year it has tried hard to turn the revolution into a mere coup. The revolutionaries considered deposing Mubarak to be the first step towards overthrowing the regime and building a new system. The Military Council saw pushing Mubarak aside as an inevitable step in the future preservation of the Mubarak regime. The Military Council is responsible for all of the artificial crises that have been used to put pressure on Egyptians, so that they will turn against the revolution and regret ever having brought it about. They are responsible for the breakdown in law and order, price increases, economic crisis massacres committed against Egyptians -- at Maspero, in Mohamed Mahmoud Street, at the cabinet offices and in Port Said. They bear primary responsibility for the "virginity tests", for the demonstrators blinded and killed by live ammunition or run over by armored vehicles, and for the women who have been abused and dragged along the streets.

We continue to seek justice from the Council for the blood of those killed and for the women abused. We will be silent only when everyone who killed Egyptians and abused women goes on trial and the criminals get their just deserts. Whenever we criticize the Military Council we emphasize that our criticism has nothing to do with the armed forces as a national institution, of which we are all proud. The Egyptian army does not belong to the Military Council but to the Egyptian people. The Military Council is performing the functions of the head of state during the transitional period. It is a political body about whose performance we will naturally disagree. As long as we are aiming at the national interest, we have a right, if not a duty, to correct its mistakes and confront it with our own opinions.

All this is obvious, but the Military Council -- just like its deposed commander-in-chief, Hosni Mubarak -- cannot stand criticism. It has no time for those who speak the truth, but listens to sycophants and flatterers and, furthermore, believes that anyone who opposes it is inciting hatred for the army. Just like Mubarak, the Military Council accepts only absolute authority and always wants to be above accountability and criticism. By the standards of the Military Council, justice means that Egyptians can be shot dead, blinded, sexually abused and dragged through the streets, without a word of objection. When we say that the Military Council is responsible for all these crimes, the Military Council gets angry and sees us as provocateurs trying to bring down the state. It is the same logic followed by Mubarak, who thought that criticism of his policies was an insult to all Egypt and who saw his opponents as a small group of hired intruders.

The Military Council has done everything to obstruct any real change in Egypt. It's now clear that it wants to retain power even if it does not hold power directly. In Egypt we now have an elected parliament, a prime minister and many ministers but none of them have real power. They talk, hold meetings and make statements but we all know that the Military Council alone has the final decision. In pursuit of the same strategy, a committee was set up to supervise the presidential elections and then all its decisions were made incontestable, in the sense that they cannot be appealed or challenged. According to a statement by the campaign of candidate Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, signs of rigging have already appeared in the presidential elections. Employees in the registry office are filling in endorsement forms for certain candidates but not for others, and when people went to report these irregularities the police officer refused to write a report and told them to go to the higher committee.

There has recently been a succession of trumped-up lawsuits against those who oppose the policies of the Military Council. The most recent of these lawsuits was against the following defendants: Mamdouh Hamza, Aboul Ezz el-Hariri, Ziad el-Eleimi, Wael Ghonim, Nawar Nigm, Asmaa Mahfouz, George Ishak, Buthaina Kamel, Yusri Foda, Reem Maged, Sameh Nagib and myself.

In fact it's an honor to be among these names because they really are a group of the finest and most honorable national figures in Egypt. In this case, the fabrication was done in the most primitive and naïve way. Seven hundred people submitted complaints to the public prosecutor against me and my colleagues, and of course they made the same old charges that Hosni Mubarak long used to get rid of people with opinions: "creating confusion," "disturbing social peace," "incitement against the command of the armed forces," "working to bring down the state and to undermine stability," and so on. These are all vague and meaningless charges with no legal basis.

The public prosecutor announced in a statement that he had referred the complaints against us to the military judiciary because it had the relevant jurisdiction. Many questions now arise. Can complaints be accepted from people who have nothing to do with the incidents cited? Could I submit a complaint accusing someone of wronging someone else, even if I have nothing to do with either of them? How can 700 people simultaneously submit complaints to the public prosecutor? Has the prosecution really listened to what the 700 people say in their complaints? How long did it take to listen to this alarming number of people? If the prosecution hasn't, can their complaints be accepted without investigation?

In this pending case, the prosecutor is endorsing a bizarre practice that is against the law and makes it easy for anyone to send in a frivolous complaint by mail and have it accepted. Why did the prosecutor refer these complaints so quickly to the military judiciary; even before listening to what the plaintiffs had to say? We are not military people; why should we be tried before the military judiciary in this bizarre case?

We have criticized the Military Council as a political body and have never spoken about military matters. The case is baseless from start to finish but the Military Council wants to punish us because we have dared to criticize its policies. The head of the military judiciary has said he is studying the complaints against us to see what measures he will take. This is a clearly a threatening message. The head of the military judiciary wants to tell us, "If you stop criticizing the Military Council we'll leave you in safety, but if you continue to criticize us, we will transfer you to a military trial and you might end up in military prison."

We reject this threat. We are not afraid of a trial because we are in the right and they are in the wrong. If stating one's opinion is now a crime in the eyes of the Military Council, then we insist on committing this crime. We will continue to speak the truth. The Military Council is responsible for the mistakes, shortcomings and crimes that have produced more than 300 deaths and thousands of injuries, to say nothing of the women who have been dragged along the ground and abused. They must understand that, as a political body, they are neither infallible nor beyond accountability.

We are waiting for the official summons from the military judiciary. We will not be frightened and we will never stop talking about what is right, whatever price we have to pay.