Egypt Two Years Later: No Accountability?

PHOTO: Ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak sits inside a cage in a courtroom during his verdict hearing in Cairo, June 2, 2012. A judge sentenced Mubarak to life in prison after convicting him of involvement in the murder of protesters during the upriPlaySTR/AFP/Getty Images
WATCH Tortured in Egypt

On the second anniversary of the revolution that toppled Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, human rights groups are slamming the new government for allowing abuse and torture to continue and for failing to hold anyone accountable for the deaths of hundreds of protestors during the "Arab Spring."

"Two years after the uprising," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, "prosecution failings, security agency cover-ups, and a failure of political will have conspired to deny justice to victims of government abuse."

Thousands of protestors occupied Tahrir Square in the center of Cairo on January 25, 2011 to protest against the Mubarak regime, which had ruled Egypt for 30 years. Crowds grew day by day, despite a violent government crackdown, until Mubarak ceded power to the Egyptian military on February 11.

But two years later only two police officers are serving jail sentences related to the killing of more than 840 protestors during the protests, according to activists. They say that hold-over security agencies obstructed investigations and judges appointed in the Mubarak era tended toward acquittals.

The courts acquitted six senior Mubarak regime security officials for complicity in the killings, blaming "criminal elements" instead. And though former president Mubarak and his interior minister, Habib al Adly, were sentenced to life on a variety of charges, earlier this month a judge overturned their life sentences and ordered a retrial, citing procedural misgivings.

Activists accuse the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces that ruled in the interim period following Mubarak's resignation in February 2011 of lacking the political will to hold officials accountable for ordering the use of live ammunition, rubber bullets, and tear gas against protestors. They also contend that since the election of Egypt's first post-revolution president, Mohamed Morsi, in June 2012, police brutality has continued to go unpunished.

"The Egyptian police continue to systematically deploy violence and torture, and at times even kill [demonstrators]," said the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights in a report published Thursday, claiming that "some moments in 2011 and 2012 were worse than before the Revolution."

President Morsi appointed a "Fact-Finding National Commission" on accountability for security officers last July, which presented its report to the president in December. But the findings have not yet been made public, though the committee said on its website that it had identified "19 separate incidents in which the police or military used excessive force or committed other violations against protesters."

"The creation of the fact-finding committee was a good initial step forward, but for it to be a truly positive development its report needs to be made public and gaps and shortcoming in investigations must be addressed," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Middle East and North Africa deputy director of Amnesty International, which released its own two-year anniversary report. "Victims and society as a whole have the right to the full truth."

Rights activists worry that even though Morsi was part of the Muslim Brotherhood, a political group long repressed by Mubarak, he may be inclined for political reasons to compromise on holding members of the military accountable for alleged abuses.

"The jury is still out on how Morsi will proceed," said Heba Morayef, Egypt director for HRW, "though given the protections he allowed the military to have in the new constitution it wouldn't be surprising if a compromise was reached regarding the accountability of the military's actions during the revolution."

The military was very involved in the drafting of the new constitution, which has retained military trials of civilians. Civilian courts are still unable to try members of the military, and the military's budget is exempt from parliamentary oversight.

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