After weeks of investigations, Egypt's public prosecutor announced today that more than 1,200 persons will be brought to trial for involvement in February's police riots. He said no evidence was found of a political or foreign conspiracy.
Prosecutor Mohammed Abdel Aziz Guindi told reporters at a press conference this morning that many of those charged will face the death penalty on counts that include mutiny, murder and sedition.
The riots on Feb. 25 and 26, which cost at least 107 lives, were the worst crisis President Hosni Mubarak has faced since coming to power in 1981. Although his aides now maintain that he emerged from the crisis stronger than ever, because the mutineers received virtually no popular support, the riots created a serious vacuum at the heart of Egypt's security establishment.
Of 1,236 persons charged, including those alleged to have committed lesser crimes such as damage to public property and unlawful weapons possession, 1,205 are members of Egypt's security forces. Only 31 are civilians, Guindi said.
In February the police mutineers, most of them conscripts, rampaged through the Pyramids resort area, other suburbs of Cairo and the areas near their barracks close to three other Egyptian cities. At the Pyramids, where the uprising began, three luxury hotels were completely burned and sporadic shooting continued for days.
An 11-day curfew was imposed on the capital after the riots began, and regular Army troops and tanks rolled into the streets to quell the mutiny.
One senior aide to Mubarak said today that an essential goal of the administration once it moved against the uprising was to avoid "smashing" or "humiliating" the 300,000-member security forces as a whole.
Although police conscripts are drawn from the same pool as Army draftees and are dressed and armed along military lines, they are the "civilian force of order," the official said, and thus had to be kept intact to ensure some semblance of continued democratic development.
They were originally expanded into a large-scale force during the 1970s specifically to distance the regular Army from contact, especially hostile confrontations, with the civilian population.
Many Egyptian commentators have suggested, however, that the riots revealed a failure by the government to perceive serious problems in its ranks.
For three years in service the conscripts were treated like servants at best, and at worst like animals, according to interviews with members of the forces and reports printed in the Egyptian press.
Former interior minister Ahmad Rushdi and several top police officers were dismissed after the riots, which Guindi said today were the "spontaneous" result of a misunderstanding among the conscripts about regulations that might have forced them to serve an extra year.
Rushdi was among the 1,204 witnesses questioned in the case, Guindi said, adding that the former interior minister reported seeing conscripts literally "foaming at the mouth" in anger over the possibility that their tours would be extended.
But while Guindi laid part of the blame on insufficient explanation by officers in the police forces regarding the rules on an extra year of duty, he said no officers were among those charged with criminal conduct.