Last Saturday, an Egyptian government fact-finding committee met to discuss the events that took place during the June 30th coup. At the same time, a group of human rights activists held a conference on violence and injustice at the journalist's association. The committee decided to begin with files pertaining to churches that have been burnt down.
Due to the fact that the committee being tied to the government, formed by a presidential decree, it is preoccupied with many procedural obstacles. Meanwhile, the human rights conference overcame many obstacles as a number of the speakers have a lot of experience that enables them to monitor the events following the coup. While the committee has to remain sensitive and phrase many of its questions with caution, the activists were not only able to diagnose many societal problems, but were also able to provide a number of solutions to the problems working against Egyptian society at this time. Perhaps this explains why many of Sunday's newspapers ignored the conference and instead chose to highlight the fact-finding committee's statements on their front pages. This is not without irony because the experts at the conference will undoubtedly portray the facts as they are whereas the committee will portray their findings in accordance with the image desired by the authorities. As such, I would argue that the findings of the human rights conference are much more important than those of the committee.
I would like to make special mention of two statements: the first is that of Professor Ahmed Saif Al-Islam Abdul Fatah, a lawyer and one of the founders of the Hisham Mubarak Centre for Human Rights; the second is that of Dr Aida Saif Al-Dawla, the director of the Nadim Centre. One of the major features of Prof. Abdul Fatah's statement came in the form of his review of the judiciary's positions and the prosecution's actions against the pro-democracy protestors, which he describes as catastrophic and pessimistic for Egypt's future, if things remain as they are. He also considered the judgement passed on girls in Alexandria, which saw Brotherhood supporters sentenced to many years in prison; he noted that this was a disgrace that will forever be marked on the judge's foreheads. Abdul Fatah criticised strongly a number of the judiciary's senior members on their decision to ignore the fundamentals of the law continuously. He even expressed his surprise at the statements of the transitional Minister of Justice, Amin Al-Mahdi, who believed that the decision to send several Muslim Brotherhood members to criminal court justified labelling the group a terrorist organisation. The law professor urged judges to remember that an accusation does not prove one's guilt and that a defendant is innocent until proven guilty. He cited statements from recently published newspaper articles demonstrating the court's violation and manipulation of certain laws. He also spoke of on-going investigations involving several activists and how there is no guarantee of justice primarily because these investigations are conducted in security headquarters under the surveillance of its own officers.
Dr Al-Dawla discussed police abuses of power not only within the context of exerting pressure on judges and court investigators, but also by manipulating evidence and suppressing protestors over the last three years. She added that the Ministry of the Interior's influence has now penetrated hospitals and that medical negligence is now one of the main forms of oppression. Al-Dawla mentioned that since the Muslim Brotherhood was declared a terrorist organisation by the government, opening fire on protestors has become a daily practice that uses excessive force. She also stated that on the day prior to the conference, 3 January, 17 demonstrators were killed, according to a statement issued by the Ministry of Health. Due to episodes of extreme violence, an estimated 2,260 people were killed from the beginning of July to the end of December 2013. She stressed that the state's use of violence has exceeded its limits and must be stopped before it is too late.
The bleak picture presented by the activists at the conference (around 14 organisations participated) is a challenge to the fact-finding committee mainly because human rights organisations will present information as it is and without any dilution or distortion of the facts. In this regard, they will highlight many of the challenges that the government committee chooses to ignore. In fact, the Ministry of the Interior has set limits on many of the cases that the committee is supposed to be investigating. Among these is the killing of the republican guard and the dispersal of the protests in Rabaa Al-Adawiyya and Al-Nahda Squares.
In this regard, I am unable to forget our previous experience with fact-finding committees in the period following the revolution. Two committees were initiated under the direction of two judiciary and law officials in Egypt. These were legal adviser Adel Koura, the former president of the court of justice, and legal adviser Mohamed Ezzat Cherbas, the former president of the court of appeals. The first was in charge of the revolutionary period, which began on January 25th, 2011 and ended on February 9th, 2011, while the second committee covered the military period that followed directly after. Both of these committees pointed their fingers at the police and the security sector, blaming them explicitly for the events that took place. Yet, all the incidents where violations occurred required the attention of the security forces. Thus, many of these incidents were ignored completely because they required the security forces to certify their validity. This ultimately led to the acquittal of many police officers and other suspects from any and all charges.
Much to the good fortune of the fact-finding committee investigating the events following 30 June, it was formed under circumstances that allowed for the security establishment to increase its influence, making it impossible for us to trust the results of its work; I am afraid it is merely a blurring of the facts in lieu of a proper investigation. This places us before two crossroads of history, one in which the narrative is dictated by the security sector and the limits it enforces, and one which is written in the blood of the victims and the tortured, as was foreseen by brave human rights activists.
This is a translation of the Arabic text published by Al- Sharq newspaper on 6 January 2014
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.