Frustration and fury at a former Minister’s trial in Egypt

“Why should he be tried for corruption only,” shouted the father of one of the victims, referring to the former Minister of Interior Habib Ibrahim El Adly. His voice was hoarse from shouting as he waited all morning under the hot sun with a large poster of his son, unable to get to the courtroom. He was not alone in his suffering. Many relatives of those who died or were injured during the uprising shared in his struggle to get into the courtroom of Cairo Criminal Court, which is in New Cairo, in the desert east of the capital. Since early morning, a heavy security presence surrounded the court. Only one access point was allowed. As only a few people were trickling in, the majority shouted their fury at police. They shouted at the army officers for making what should have been a normal entrance into the courtroom a painful experience filled with tears and helplessness. An army commander insisted that he would not let anybody pass until the some 100 people formed a single queue. We explained to him that we represent Amnesty International and had come to observe the trial. We asked if he was barring the way on orders from the presiding judge. He appeared offended and responded that he does not receive orders from a judge but only from the military leadership. He sarcastically said we should go and observe trials at the International Court of Justice. Eventually, he took our business cards and accreditation letters and came back saying we would be allowed in, only to disappear afterwards. Lawyers, too, were blocked on the pretext that people were unable to enter the court in an orderly fashion. After pushing and shoving, the lawyers, the relatives and the media were able to move beyond the first barrier, thinking they would finally reach the court room and see the former Minister of Interior and other senior security officers in the defendants’ cage, standing trial on charges of killing unarmed protesters. But this initial sense of success was short-lived. More than 100 metres from the courtroom, another line of iron bars and a chain of Central Security officers blocked their way. As army officers asked people to calm down and listen, one young man said “we have been listening for the last 30 years. You need to listen to us now”. “The police and the army are one hand”, sniped a lawyer, mocking a popular slogan during the “25 January Revolution” – “the people and the army are one hand”. Pleading and arguments got the crowd nowhere, with many still barred from accessing the court. Only after long negotiations and showing the army officers their identification were a few lawyers allowed to enter. We spoke to BBC Arabic reporters about our plans to observe the trial. After we again told the police officer that we were from a human rights organization, he allowed us and some lawyers to pass.

We passed two barriers where we had our bags searched. We thought we would finally be able to enter the courtroom and get on with observing the trial. But, with only a few meters to go until the main courtroom door, we could not advance anymore. Another metal barrier and a line of security officials stood between us and the courtroom. We were told the courtroom was too packed to allow any more people in. At the door, the brother of one of the victims pleaded with the soldiers to let him enter: “They have killed my brother, I have the right to enter”, he shouted to no avail, clearly frustrated and furious that the security forces had denied him access to the trial.