Military trials in Egypt? Freedom
In August of 2007, former Guild President Bruce Nestor participated in a human rights delegation to Egypt organized by the Muslim American Society (“MAS”). The delegation, including Mahdi Bray, Executive Director of the MAS Freedom Foundation and Dr. Ammar Qurabi, envoy of the UN Human Rights Commission and President of the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria, spent one week investigating the use of military tribunals against members of the Muslim Brotherhood by the government of Egypt.
The Muslim Brotherhood represents the largest political opposition in Egypt, despite being a banned organization. Several hundred members of the Brotherhood are currently detained by the Egyptian government and in December of 2006, many leaders of the organization were arrested in a new crackdown on the group. Originally prosecuted in civilian courts, the seventeen leaders were acquitted on multiple occasions by the civilian courts, and ordered released from custody. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak then ordered that forty members of the Brotherhood, all civilians and including those previously acquitted, be re-arrested and face prosecution before closed, military tribunals.
In Egypt, the delegation twice sought unsuccessfully to gain access to the tribunals to observe the trials. The trials are held on a military base outside Cairo and even defense attorneys do not know until the day of a hearing whether they will be admitted or not. Prior to the August delegation, former United States Attorney General Ramsey Clark, along with representatives of Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, had also sought access to the trials without success. Amnesty has condemned the use of military tribunals against civilians in Egypt as violation of international law, including the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, to which Egypt is a state party. Since 1994, military courts have sentenced at least 94 people to death with over 67 known to have been executed.
The Egyptian Bar Association hosted a press conference for the delegation, which included defense attorneys for the Brotherhood members on trial and elected officers of the Bar Association. The persons on trial in the secret tribunals include engineers, physicians, business people, and other professionals who are active in the Brotherhood. The most recent crackdown actually began in early 2006, when the Brotherhood lent its support to judges campaigning for judicial independence and clean elections. The delegation also met with family members of those on trial who described numerous human rights violations by Egyptian security forces, including the theft of property, night time arrests without warrants, and horrific conditions of detention.
In Egypt, as in Pakistan, the United States provides massive military aid to an autocratic dictatorship which serves the national security interests of those currently holding power in Washington. In Egypt, as in Pakistan, the legal profession is part of a movement in civil society which poses a threat to the ruling regime and both regimes seek to eliminate the development of an independent judiciary.
The delegation provided an extraordinary opportunity to uphold the demand for fundamental human rights and the rule of law while opposing the repression of a political and social movement in Egypt which is authentic, deeply rooted in Egyptian society, and committed to developing Egypt as an independent country which meets the needs of its people. Such ties and interaction between groups such as the Guild and the legal profession, civil society organizations, and opposition political movements in other countries, will become even more important to the degree that the United States government continues to ally itself with narrow, corrupt military regimes in the Islamic world which are essentially client states in the United States’ “War on Terror.” A international human rights framework, which recognizes the right of all people to self-determination, and promotes relations based on dialogue and respect, maintains hope for the survival of us all when the regimes in Egypt and Washington finally collapse and are overthrown.