Egypt's military probing charges against activists

March 8, 2012 - 3:36 PM
Mideast Egypt

FILE - In this Monday, June 26, 2006 file photo, Alaa al-Aswany, the author of the best-selling novel "The Yacoubian Building," speaks during an interview with Associated Press in Cairo, Egypt. Egypt's official news agency says Thursday March 8, 2012, the nation's chief military prosecutor is investigating allegations against 12 top activists, media personalities, lawmakers and a best-selling novelist. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris, File)

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's military prosecutors are investigating allegations against 12 top activists, including a leader of the 2011 uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak and a best-selling novelist, the official news agency reported Thursday.

It said the allegations, which include inciting hatred against the military and trying to overthrow the government, were filed by more than 700 members of the public to the office of Egypt's top prosecutor.

The inquiry was only preliminary, to determine whether the complaints have merit.

The agency quoted chief military prosecutor Maj. Gen. Adel al-Mursi as saying none of the 12 would even be summoned for questioning unless an examination of the allegations establishes their credibility.

"There will absolutely be no trial of people for their thoughts or ideology so long as they abide by the law," al-Mursi said.

Since taking over from Mubarak a year ago, Egypt's ruling generals have consistently targeted critics, trying to intimidate top activists and media figures by summoning them for questioning by military prosecutors.

Another tactic has been using loyal journalists, particularly talk show hosts on state and private TV stations, to discredit activists as irresponsible or as foreign agents, while presenting the generals as true patriots.

The latest move against the 12 may not lead to trials, but it appeared designed to intimidate them.

One thing in common among all 12 is their opposition to military rule.

Among them are world famous novelist Alaa al-Aswany, a harsh critic of the military, and former Google executive and activist Wael Ghoneim, who shot to world attention for his role in organizing the 18-day uprising that toppled Mubarak.

"It is the right of every citizen to press charges, but what matters most is how much truth and credibility are in these charges," Ghoneim wrote on his Facebook page.

Also on the list are TV talk show hosts Youssri Foudah and Reem Maged; Ziad el-Aleimi, a lawmaker who publicly described military leader Hussein Tantawi as a donkey; Butheina Kamel, a female TV presenter and presidential hopeful, and two prominent female activists, Asmaa Mahfouz and Nawara Negm.

Others are George Ishaq, a co-founder of Kefaya, or Enough!, a movement whose followers defied Mubarak's brutal police force a decade ago to chant slogans against his rule, and Mamdouh Hamza, an architect who has been a generous backer of the uprising.

Negm was beaten by a pro-military mob in Cairo in January and was questioned by prosecutors the same month over her alleged role in deadly clashes between troops and protesters in Cairo the month before. She is the daughter of Ahmed Fouad Negm, Egypt's best known satirical poet and longtime critic of Mubarak.

Mahfouz, a leading figure in last year's uprising, was also questioned by military prosecutors over her activism.

Hamza, the architect, is already under investigation for allegedly encouraging Egyptians to go on strike to mark the Feb. 11 anniversary of Mubarak's resignation. Al-Aswany has publicly complained about harassment by "thugs."

Pro-democracy activists, many of them credited for engineering last year's uprising, accuse the military of bungling the transition, killing protesters, torturing detainees and hauling at least 10,000 civilians for trial before military tribunals.

Some activists are demanding that the generals be prosecuted for crimes they committed during their rule, meaning an end to the immunity from civilian oversight enjoyed by the military for decades.

Several hundred women marched in central Cairo on Thursday to mark Women's International Day, chanting slogans against military rule and demanding that parliament give women fair representation in a 100-member panel that will draft the nation's new constitution.

They also carried pictures of army troops attacking female protesters late last year.