Two years after the bloody dispersal of the Rabea al-Adaweya protest camp that claimed the lives of more than 1,000 people in August 2013, the Egyptian state insists on one culprit for the violence: the Muslim Brotherhood.
On Tuesday, Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie and a number of unnamed leaders in the outlawed organization were referred to criminal court on charges of organizing an armed protest camp, illegally possessing weapons, blocking roads, limiting people’s freedom of movement, premeditated murder of both civilians and the police forces who attempted to disperse the sit-in, and the vandalism of public and private property, including electricity towers.
The case is expected to be the biggest trial to target the Brotherhood since the overthrow of former President Mohamed Morsi.
The prosecution’s decision to withhold the names and the number of other defendants on trial is an unprecedented move, according Moukhtar Mounir, a lawyer with the Association for Freedom of Thought of Expression (AFTE).
While the prosecution is not obliged to include the names of defendants, he explains, it is unorthodox for a statement not to include the number of people on trial.
The prosecution’s statement is more akin to a political statement, Mounir argues, as it describes the sit-in as an armed protest, making the trial’s result a foregone conclusion.
According to the court referral order, the prosecution will attempt to show that the defendants organized the armed sit-in, ordered the organization of armed marches in different parts of the city to target peaceful citizens, illegally inspected the residents of the area surrounding the protest camp inside Rabea, detained and tortured civilians inside the sit-in, and illegally possessed arms that they later used against police forces.
The prosecution’s investigations mainly depended on testimonies of residents living next to the protest site, state officials and police forces, the statement said. Judicial sources said that 1,000 defendants were interrogated, the privately owned Al-Tahrir newspaper reported.
It is not yet clear whether more defendants will be tried in the future.
Detailed information about the case and the implicated defendants is only available to the head of East Cairo prosecution Mohamed Seif, attorney general for East Cairo prosecution Mohamed Abdel Shafy and acting Prosecutor General Ali Omran, according to Al-Tahrir.
Mounir believes the prosecution’s focus on all events between June 21 and August 14, 2013 is problematic, as it includes the violent confrontations between Islamist protesters and security forces at the Manassa memorial and the Republican Guard headquarters, which resulted in dozens of deaths.
“Does this mean that the defendants will be tried for these incidents, as well?” he asks.
Many of Mounir’s questions should be answered on Sunday, when the maximum pre-detention period ends for the detainees implicated in the Rabea dispersal case (Egyptian law limits pretrial detention to two years). Among those jailed is freelance photojournalist Mahmoud Abou Zeid, known as Shawkan. There are fears that Shawkan, and hundreds like him, maybe referred to trial instead of released.
“The fears are legitimate,” asserts Mounir.
The prosecutor general’s office was not available to comment.
Human rights lawyer Haleem Heniesh explained that the prosecution’s statement could not even be considered a referral order. “Lawyers who headed to the prosecution’s office could not find out any official details on who is implicated in this case,” he explains.
Heniesh argues that the prosecution’s behavior undermines the very spirit of the law.
“Despite all criticism against the performance of the judiciary, there was always a minimum level of respect to the law. This level now is non-existent,” he says.
Tuesday’s prosecution order and the so-called “Rabea operations room” case are the two major court cases in which Brotherhood leaders face charges of responsibility for the deaths at the sit-in, despite various reports allocating varying degrees of culpability to the police.
Last year, the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report on the eve of the dispersal’s anniversary entitled “All According to Plan: The Rab’a Massacre and the Mass Killing of Protesters in Egypt,” which was vehemently critical of the Egyptian government, and directly accused police forces of bearing the main responsibility for killing hundreds of protesters on August 14, 2013.
According to the strongly worded report, “police and army forces systematically and intentionally used excessive lethal force in their policing, resulting in killings of protesters on a scale unprecedented in Egypt.”
A major finding in the report revealed that police forces used lethal force indiscriminately, which was the major reason behind the high number of deaths. In a condemnatory conclusion, HRW claimed the dispersal was likely a crime against humanity.
While the report widely recognized internationally, Egyptian authorities lashed out at HRW for its alleged bias toward the Brotherhood.
The National Council for Human Rights (NCHR), a state-governed rights organization, toed a less confrontational line with its report released in March 2014, which documented violations in both camps. While NCHR blamed the Brotherhood for various violations against civilians — like killing, torture, illegal detention, abuse of children, illegal possession of arms and inciting violence and hate speech — it also levied considerable accusations against the police.
The report stated that while armed men inside the sit-in opened fire first, “police forces failed to practice self-restraint, and excessively used live ammunition [compared to the level of threat posed by the armed protesters], which is a violation of the right to life and physical safety.”
NCHR also said that those injured were denied access to basic emergency medical treatment.
The June 30 fact-finding committee report formed by interim President Adly Mansour also meted out equal blame in its November 2014 report.
“Even if police were pushed to confront gunfire,” the report stated, “it failed to only target the roving armed men among the protesters, which increased the number of victims.”
Last week, an appeals court set October 1 as the date for investigating the appeals against death and life sentences against 51 top Brotherhood figures in the “Rabea operations room” case.
In this case, Badie and 13 other Brotherhood leaders were sentenced to death, and 37 others to life imprisonment, on charges of forming an operations room to direct the Rabea sit-in as part of an attempt to “confront the state.”
“The police will never be tried in any cases related to Rabea,” asserts Heneish. “Such a case would mean a total confession that the state committed a crime against humanity. This is too big for the government to acknowledge.”