Egypt postpones trial of former interior minister, aides in protester deaths

July 25, 2011

A judge on Monday postponed the trial of Egypt’s former interior minister in connection with the killing of nearly 900 protesters during the popular uprising and decided to combine it with the trial of ousted president Hosni Mubarak on the same charges.

The postponement in the case of Habib al-Adli, who led Egypt’s roughly 500,000-member police forces under Mubarak, elicited anger and derision from protesters encamped in Cairo for more than two weeks. It was the second such postponement and raised suspicions that authorities are reluctant to prosecute Mubarak-era officials in the deaths of anti-government demonstrators during the 18-day uprising that drove Mubarak from power Feb. 11.

The chief judge in the trial of Adli and six of his top aides announced that the case would be combined with Mubarak’s trial, scheduled for Aug. 3. The hearing was aired live on state television, allowing millions of Egyptians to see Adli and his aides in detention for the first time.

The protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square are calling for the interim military leadership to hasten trials against Mubarak-era officials and police officers accused of killing protesters. Only one noncommissioned police officer has been convicted in absentia and given the death penalty in connection with the killings.

The relationship between the protesters and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the interim rulers of Egypt, has grown increasingly tense since the Tahrir Square sit-in began July 8.

On Saturday, protesters clashed for hours with supporters of the armed forces, and more than 150 people were injured. Many demonstrators are calling for the ouster of the military council and its head, Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, who had served as Mubarak’s defense minister.

As the announcement of the trial postponement was aired on television, an accompanying graphic with the words, “The army and the people are one hand,” prompted viewers to erupt in protest.

Under a wilting sun in Tahrir Square, protesters who tuned in to listen to the trial proceedings on the radio reacted with anger but not surprise.

“We all know this scenario, and it will repeat itself again. We know there are no fair trials,” said Sayed Sobhy, a member of a protest organization called the April 6 Youth Movement. “This did not put out our fire.”

Sobhy said demonstrators planned to march to the Supreme Court to protest the postponement. He dismissed the images on state television of Adli in a cell. In the protesters’ view, the airing of the Mubarak-era officials’ trials was something the sit-in had forced out of the authorities.

“What does it mean to see him in a cage? This does not give me any satisfaction. He killed protesters, and he still hasn’t been put on trial,” Sobhy said.

Adli was convicted on separate corruption charges and sentenced to 12 years in prison. But the former interior minister, his aides, Mubarak and the ousted president’s two sons have yet to be tried in the killing of protesters.

Many Egyptians believe the military is unwilling to try Mubarak, who served as air force commander before becoming president, a position he held for 30 years. He is in a hospital in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

“We feel like they’re fooling us; we feel like Mubarak is still ruling Egypt,” said Muhammed Abdelmonem Ahmed, a 23-year-old from upper Egypt who has been camping in Tahrir Square for 20 days. “If you want to start anything right in this world, then you have to fix previous mistakes.”

Shami is a special correspondent.

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