Egypt's Secret Military Trials Erode Trust Chants of "The army and the people are one" could be heard in Tahrir Square during Egypt's revolution this spring. But the sense of respect that activists held for the military has dwindled as more people have been arrested and subjected to secret trials, a continuation of a Mubarak-era practice.
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Egypt's Secret Military Trials Erode Activists' Trust

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Egypt's Secret Military Trials Erode Activists' Trust

Egypt's Secret Military Trials Erode Activists' Trust

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

Many of the young Egyptians who led the effort to oust dictator Hosni Mubarak say an enormous threat to the revolution remains. They're talking about the current government's use of secret military trials. It's estimated that at least 7,000 people, including protesters, bloggers and dissidents, have been jailed the army since Mubarak stepped down.

As NPR's Eric Westervelt reports, activists are pressing the military to transfer those cases to civilian courts and to investigate allegations of abuse and torture.

ERIC WESTERVELT: Every political slogan is laced with propaganda. But during Egypt's revolution, the frequent Tahrir Square chant, the army and the people are one, had real meaning. People didn't just hope; they trusted the military to support their risky push for justice and basic freedoms.

But four months into military rule here, critics say, the army has continued the Mubarak era practice of silencing dissidents with hasty trials in closed military courts.

Mr. TAREK SHALABY (Blogger/Social Media Consultant): It is only a violation of our rights as Egyptians, and we deserve better.

WESTERVELT: Tarek Shalaby is a 26-year-old Egyptian blogger and social media consultant. He was protesting peacefully last month outside the Israeli embassy here in support of Palestinian statehood when Egyptian military police cuffed him and took him away. He was charged with violating the prohibition on public gatherings among several other charges. He was taken to a military prison and quickly put on trial.

Mr. SHALABY: Basically, we had no representation. There wasn't even the ability to ask for one. They already assign you a lawyer who is part of the military himself, but he's not actually there. It's just like his ID is there on the table.

WESTERVELT: Shalaby got a one-year suspended sentence, others haven't been as lucky. Rights groups here estimate there are still dozens of protesters behind military bars.

Thirty-two-year-old Amr al-Beheiry is one of them. He was beaten and arrested in late February during a sit-in against the interim government. He's now serving five years in a military prison for allegedly breaking curfew and assaulting a public official.

Amnesty International reports that he may have been beaten and tortured with electric shocks while in military custody. Five oil-field workers recently arrested during a labor strike also are stuck in a military prison.

Blogger Shalaby says he now doesn't trust the army to guide the country to free and fair parliamentary elections scheduled for September. He charges that repression by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces or SCAF, headed by Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, is undermining the core values of the revolution.

Mr. SHALABY: They have decided there will be no change in the system. We will just change some names, maybe improve little things here and there. We will not be able to succeed in our January 25 revolution until we completely get rid of the current setup of the SCAF, especially led by Tantawi and by Sameh Inan and the rest of the corrupt dictators, if you will, that are part of the council.

WESTERVELT: The Egyptian military didn't respond to requests for comment for this story. Anonymous military representatives have phoned into Egyptian news shows defending military trials as necessary to curb a spike in crime and to maintain order. The army has used that security argument to justify the more than three decades old emergency law, which to this day gives security forces sweeping powers.

Mona Seif, with the new rights group called No Military Trials for Civilians, met with representatives of the army for more than five hours yesterday. Seif said the group demanded an investigation into allegations of abuse and torture by military police and for all civilians in military custody to be retried in civilian courts. They also suggested non-military judges should evaluate all the cases and make a public recommendation.

Ms. MONA SEIF (Member, No Military Trials for Civilians): Always part of the issue is that you don't just demand. It's that you give them a practical solution. So they promised they are going to look into it and discuss it.

WESTERVELT: Seif said while the army seems genuinely open to dialogue, they offer no guarantees. And she added this is not the first time they've promised to take our criticism and suggestions seriously.

Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Cairo.

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