Free Maikel!

IssueMay 2011
Feature by Andreas Speck

“We got rid of the dictator, but not of the dictatorship”. Maikel Nabil Sanad wrote this in a post on his blog, in which he analysed the role of the Egyptian military during and after the revolution that toppled dictator Hosni Mubarak. Three weeks later, on 28 March, he was arrested by military police. A judge then ordered his imprisonment for 15 days, pending the investigation on charges of “insulting the military” and “obstructing public security”.

The trial itself was adjourned several times – unusual in a military court – but still did not meet international standards of a fair trial. When the trial was adjourned for the first time on 31 March, War Resisters’ International decided to send an observer.

And so I travelled to Cairo on 2 April, to be there for the next hearing on 3 April. When we arrived at the military court in Nasr City, outside of Cairo, we were not allowed to attend the court session. Only Maikel’s lawyers and his brother were allowed in. Thus the court continuously violated the principle of a public trial.

On 3 April, the court adjourned the trial again to 4 April, and then again to 6 April, when sentencing was adjourned to 10 April.

On the day of sentencing the court tricked Maikel’s lawyers and family by first adjourning sentencing again to 12 April. But after everyone had left the court proceeded to sentence Maikel to three years’ imprisonment, in the absence of his lawyers and family.

They only found out when the brother of another prisoner phoned Maikel’s brother to tell him. With the sentence, Egypt’s first post-revolution trial against a blogger for expressing an opinion came to a close, setting an extremely worrying precedent. Maikel is now being held at El-Marg prison, but is not allowed any visitors during the first month.

Continuing repression

Ironically, the arrest and sentencing of Maikel proves the argument he made in his blog post – that the army is not on the side of the revolution, but is trying to steal it.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International both reported the continuing detention and torture of opposition activists after the resignation of president Hosni Mubarak.

According to Human Rights Watch, “the military has arrested at least 200 protesters and tried scores of them before military courts. Over 150 protesters arrested on 9 March after the military forcibly cleared Tahrir Square of protesters were sentenced to prison terms by military tribunals in Cairo’s high-security Tora prison and are still being held.”

Human Rights Watch also reports that “on 22 March, general Etman sent a letter to editors of Egyptian newspapers telling them ‘not to publish any articles/news/press releases/complaints/advertising/pictures concerning the armed forces or the leadership of the armed forces, except after consulting the morale affairs directorate and the military intelligence since these are the competent parties to examine such issues to protect the safety of the nation.’

Even though Mubarak and his sons were arrested on 13 April, as were other high-ranking representatives of the former regime, the old elite is still in power. Muhammad Tantawi, minister of defence under Mubarak and now chair of the supreme council of the armed forces is still the strong man of Egypt – and his nickname was “Mubarak’s poodle”.

When, on 8 April, demonstrators in Tahrir Square not only demanded the arrest of Mubarak, but also the resignation of Tantawi and the handing-over of power to a civilian interim government in the largest demonstration since Mubarak’s resignation, the military attacked the remaining demonstrators at night, killing at least two and injuring many more.

In the following days, the military randomly arrested activists in the streets around Tahrir Square, and today the square is under military control.

Egyptian opposition activists are waking up to the fact that – as Maikel Nabil Sanad wrote – they got rid of the dictator, but not of the dictatorship.

The next weeks and months will be crucial for the future of Egypt’s revolution. Solidarity with Maikel Nabil Sanad is one important way to support Egypt’s revolution