Egypt's “Honorable Officers” Will Spend Jan 25 Anniversary in Jail
Published Saturday, January 14, 2012
While the Egyptian army hosts a ceremony in Tahrir celebrating the role of the military in siding with the revolution on January 25, several officers who joined the protests early last year will not be able to attend. The trials of Major Tamer Badr, Amr Metwally, and Ahmed Shoman, arrested after joining protesters in Tahrir Square during the November mass protests against military rule, have now been postponed until next month.
This means that as the anniversary celebrations take place, a total of at least 25 officers will be sitting in prisons for having peacefully joined protests. Meanwhile, officers involved in abusing protesters, even in widely publicized cases such as that of “blue bra girl” and the Maspero massacre, will be joining the ceremony.
The majority of the other officers being held are those that joined the square on April 8th. The soldiers have been collectively named “the honorable officers” by their supporters, who have held protests in their honor over the last two Fridays and also rallied outside the military court complex on Jan 11, when the case had been scheduled to be heard.
The reason given for the delay was that a new judge had been appointed to the panel hearing the case, necessitating a fresh submission of pleas and depositions by the defendants.
Documents from Egypt's military courts are not publicly available, but according to Ali Taha, a lawyer representing Shoman, the three officers face a bundle of eight charges. These include breaching military decorum, inappropriate behavior, giving political statements to the press without permission, absence from unit without permission or permit, publicly appearing in military uniform – (though it seems unlikely this charge will proceed against Badr, who wore civilian clothes), and in the case of Shoman, charges of provoking his colleagues against the SCAF based on statements he made on Facebook.
He noted however, that at least in Shoman's case, these charges had been reduced from felonies to misdemeanors, meaning the maximum possible sentence was a three year jail term, rather than death.
Shoman is the most well known of the three officers currently awaiting trial. This is in part a result of the public stance taken by his wife and sister, who have lead the Tahrir protests calling for his release. The main reason, however, for the extra attention his case has drawn – despite a blackout on the story in the Egyptian media – is that in February 2011, he was the first officer of the Egyptian army to declare his support for the square and call for the ouster of Mubarak – pre-empting the military leadership.
This first case, unlike the one he is facing now, drew extensive press attention, and he was pardoned after turning himself in. As Taha pointed out, this highlights the large amount of discretion granted to military courts in the post Mubarak period. He says this means that political considerations may be more important to the case than legal details.
“Public opinion plays a very important role in cases like this one,” he said noting that these charges, being felonies, were “even graver” than those he currently faces. This is important Taha says, because in one sense the charges are “logical.”
“An officer who would give statements in uniform as a part of the military system represents the organization by default. Without permission from higher up, it is not acceptable,” he said. He added, however, that he hoped the court would honor “the spirit of the law” rather than “the actuality.”
Pointing out that the country is currently in a “revolutionary state,” he compared the actions of the officers to those of the SCAF generals in refusing the orders of Mubarak – commander of the armed forces at the time – and siding with the January/February uprising.
The contradiction of this position is heightened by the fact that SCAF are preparing a celebration of their insubordination on the newly announced January 25 public holiday. During the ceremony, officers who followed SCAF’s public example and followed their conscience over the chain of command, will be sitting in prison while “those who have stolen, and killed revolutionaries, are out having fun in the hotels, and in marina [an exclusive north coast resort],” in the words of Shoman's sister Mona Ali Shoman.
Mona Salah, Shoman's wife, said that her husband had been a passionate supporter of the revolution, frequently expressing his hope that Egypt would take its rightful place among the world's great nations, and hoping that life would improve for its people. But frustrated with the slow pace of change, Shoman had offered his resignation twice because he wanted to be free to articulate his frustrations without breaching protocol. He was twice refused.
She was keen to add that his resignation was not a sign he was unhappy with army life. “Ahmed adores his job to an extent that I cannot describe, he loves his job very much, but his patriotism exceeded his love for his home, his children, and his family, and it exceeded [his love for] his work,” she said.
Salah said that after the “events of Mohammed Mahmoud” on November 19 and 20, he could no longer hold his peace. When he went down to the square, however, she insists his aim was not “to create conflict, on the contrary, he went to the correct the image of the army, that had been shaken.”
She said that in recent months “we did not hear the words, ‘The Army and the People are one hand,’ except when Ahmed Shoman went (and joined the protesters) on November 22.”
Since his arrest, Salah said Shoman had been kept in a cell no bigger than a meter by a meter and a half. After she was informed that he had fallen and been transferred to the prison hospital, his family had been denied access. By the time his condition had improved and he was transferred back to the prison proper, they asked again (having been granted official permission by the prosecutors office). “We said, we just want to check on him, or just hear his voice. They said, it's forbidden, it's forbidden,” Salah said.
Salah did see her husband during his January 11 court appearance, and said he looked healthy but tired. “He kept it together,” she said, “that's his way,” adding he had told her that his fate was “in God's hands.” She does not know if she will have another chance to see him before he and Majors Badr and Metwally next face court on February 12.