Asmaa Mahfouz, Egyptian youth activist, is charged by military prosecutor

August 14, 2011

Asmaa Mahfouz sat in front of an Egyptian military prosecutor Sunday to face charges of inciting violence against the military and insulting the armed forces. She was charged, bail was set, and the case was referred to a military court.

The well-known youth activist, who became a symbol of heroism as a key organizer of the 18-day uprising that forced the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, is the latest civilian caught up in a parallel justice system set up by the country’s interim military leadership.

While Mubarak, members of his family and other officials from his government are being tried in civilian courts, thousands of civilians are not afforded the same right.

More than 10,000 civilians have been tried and convicted in hasty military tribunals since the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces took control of the country after Mubarak’s ouster Feb. 11.

The charges against Mahfouz, 26, mark an escalation by the military leadership, which seems to be tiring of increased criticism and continued protests. In recent months, military officials have questioned several high-profile activists, such as Mahfouz, who have used social networking sites to mobilize anti-government demonstrations, but the activists have been released without being charged. The charges against Mahfouz come as Mubarak’s trial is expected to resume in a civilian court Monday. He is accused of ordering the killing of protesters and of corruption.

Mahfouz’s $3,340 bail — a steep sum for most Egyptians — was posted by supporters. Dozens more civilian protesters and activists are slated to appear before the military prosecutor Monday.

“The Mubarak trial is supposed to be about an end to the police state and a break with that abusive past,” said Heba Morayef, a Middle East and North Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Yet, ironically, what you have in parallel is the military investing in a justice system that doesn’t respect fair trials for civilians.”

Morayef said the Mahfouz case, the military’s attacks this spring on a youth movement that played a key role in organizing the revolution and government accusations that civic groups were working for foreign nations are disturbing signs at a time when many in Egypt expected greater freedoms.

“I think we should all take this so seriously,” she said. “It’s not a good sign of things to come.”

Mahfouz was called in for questioning after she posted a comment on the social networking site Facebook. “If the judiciary doesn’t give us our rights, nobody should be surprised if militant groups appear and conduct a series of assassinations because there is no law and there is no judiciary,” she wrote.

The message was a commentary on the importance of the outcome of the trials of Mubarak, his security chief, his sons and other officials from his era. Last month, Mahfouz told an Arabic satellite television station that the military leadership was corrupt and allowed thugs to attack protesters. The military leadership accused her of inciting violence.

“She was expressing her fears that there could be violence if there is no justice in Egypt,” said her attorney, Hossam Eissa, who offered his legal services free. “We should stop these military inquisitions now. It’s not good for anybody.”

On Sunday morning, before she was questioned, Mahfouz told Eissa, “I can’t believe Habib al-Adli, the [former] minister of interior, is having a civilian judge to judge him and I am someone who went to Tahrir [Square] and made this revolution and I don’t have the same right,” he quoted her as saying.

Adli’s trial was adjourned to Sept. 5. He is accused of ordering the killing of unarmed protesters.

Egyptian activists have been pushing unsuccessfully for an end to the military trials, but the military rulers have said the courts are necessary to stop “thuggery” during these uncertain times.

“The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces reacts violently to things because the country is in such a state of chaos that they feel their reaction is the only way to re-stabilize things,” former judge Saeed Abdel Wahab said. “Nothing is new in post-revolution Egypt. The ones ruling Egypt now are the same as the ones who were ruling during Mubarak’s time. They are loyal to him still.”

Special correspondent Ingy Hassieb contributed to this report.

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