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Egypt’s military rulers summoned to testify

Could lend credence to Mubarak trial

Egypt’s former president Hosni Mubarak, 83, returned to court yesterday in his trial on charges in the killing of protesters. Egypt’s former president Hosni Mubarak, 83, returned to court yesterday in his trial on charges in the killing of protesters. (Associated Press)
By Michael Birnbaum
Washington Post / September 8, 2011

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CAIRO - Judges ordered Egypt’s top military rulers yesterday to testify at the trial of their former commander, Hosni Mubarak, after police witnesses dealt prosecutors another blow by refusing to implicate Egypt’s longtime leader in the deaths of protesters.

Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi - the head of the military council ruling Egypt - and some of his top deputies were summoned to testify in a closed session of the former president’s trial on charges of corruption and complicity in the deaths of protesters, according to state TV.

The extraordinary step of hauling in the powerful army heads could help lend credence to a trial that has disappointed those who hold Mubarak responsible for about 900 deaths that took place in the 18 days of protests. Many Egyptians think that Tantawi holds the key to whether Mubarak personally gave orders.

But the closed sessions, which will start Sunday, will keep the public from knowing what the top officials say.

Tantawi and the army forced Mubarak to step down after they sensed he had lost control of the country, and a popular chant in the early days of post-Mubarak Egypt was “the people and the army are one hand.’’

Popular frustration, however, has mounted with their rule. Tantawi’s testimony about the man who was his boss for decades and made him the head of the army will be a crucial test of the depths of their break.

Judge Ahmed Refaat also issued a gag order preventing media coverage of the closed sessions, though the practical effect of trying to prevent media outlets from covering what is sure to be a focus of popular fascination is unclear in an era when so many self-publish on Twitter, Facebook, and blogs.

Yesterday, a police captain became the latest witness to deny that Mubarak had anything to do with the deaths of protesters - because on the deadliest day of the protests, riot police were not armed with live ammunition, the captain said, according to lawyers. Prosecutors charged him with perjury, and Refaat had him detained, though he was acquitted at the end of the session.

The captain, Mohammad Abdel-Hakim, had previously signed an affidavit saying that he had issued live ammunition to the forces under his command. Other witnesses on Monday told stories similarly at odds with the affidavits they had sworn to, all to the effect of making the shootings of protesters appear more spontaneous and less premeditated.

Some Egyptians are deeply worried that Mubarak won’t be convicted of any charges.

“I’m sure he’ll be acquitted,’’ said Alaa Zaghlol, 28, an accountant who was carrying a poster depicting Mubarak’s head inside a noose in front of the courtroom. “The judicial system is corrupt, politicized, and loyal to the old regime.’’

Several of the family lawyers accused security officials and other Mubarak supporters of pressuring the witnesses to deny the existence of any shoot-to-kill orders for police. But there has so far been no court investigation into the suspicions or the reasons for the changes in testimony, raising complaints that the prosecution is not being aggressive or organized enough in its case.

Omar Haggag, one of the family lawyers, said the judge summoned Tantawi and the other top leadership figures to avoid dragging on with testimonies from junior officials. “He clearly aims to end the controversy on whether Mubarak ordered the shooting or not . . . it aims to save more time and effort in determining this,’’ Haggag said.

Mubarak’s 29-year domination of Egyptian institutions means that he is on trial before a panel of judges whom he had appointed and is being prosecuted by lawyers whom he once approved.

In addition to Tantawi, the top officials who will testify in the closed sessions next week are Armed Forces Chief of Staff Sami Anan, former vice president Omar Suleiman, former interior minister Mahmoud Wagdy, and current Interior Minister Mansour el-Eissawy.

Activists have called for a large protest in Tahrir Square tomorrow. Dubbed “Correcting the Path,’’ the protest is expected to call for an end to military trials of civilians and a concrete timeline for a handover to civilian rule.

In a proclamation issued on the ruling military council’s Facebook page yesterday, it called any attack against the military “a threat to Egyptian national security and this great people.’’

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report. top stories on Twitter

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