Egypt: Still no release of imprisoned blogger Maikel Nabil Sanad

In October, War Resisters' International again visited Egypt, in support of imprisoned pacifist blogger Maikel Nabil Sanad, who is on hunger strike since 23 August 2011. The objective was to be present during the appeal hearing at the military court on 11 October 2011, and to show solidarity.

As expected, WRI's representative was not able to enter the court, as a military court is a military establishment, and therefore non-Egyptian citizens cannot enter without a special permit, which is not easy to obtain. An official of the German embassy, who also wanted to attend the hearing, had the same fate. On 11 October, the military appeal court finally annulled the initial sentence of three years' imprisonment for Maikel Nabil Sanad, and ordered a re-trial. However, the court did not order the release of Maikel Nabil Sanad pending the retrial.

Since then, the ordeal of Maikel Nabil Sanad, still on hunger strike, continued. Maikel Nabil Sanad is now refusing any cooperation with the military court, as he does not accept its jurisdiction, and also asked his lawyers to no longer co-operate with the military court. At the first hearing of the new trial on 18 October, the court therefore appointed a lawyer, who then requested that Maikel Nabil Sanad be sent to a psychiatric hospital for examination. This attempt at pathologisation of dissent failed when the psychiatric hospital refused to co-operate, and declared Maikel Nabil Sanad sane.

At the second hearing on 1 November, the court appointed lawyer - representing Maikel against Maikel's expressed will - called several witnesses for the defence, which resulted in the trial again being postponed to 13 November. It is presently unclear how long this farce will continue.

Meanwhile, the military is increasing repression. On Sunday, 30 October, blogger and activist Alaa Abdel Fattah was arrested on order of the military prosecutor, and is presently detained for 15 days pending the investigation. Fattah was summoned by the ruling military council recently with other activists, but he refused to take part in the investigation, declaring that as a civilian he is not supposed to be interrogated by a military prosecutor, which made the prosecutor give orders for his imprisonment.

He is been accused of incitement against the military forces and participation in attacking them, vandalising equipment owned by the military, protesting and upsetting public order.
Abdel Fattah, one of Egypt's most prominent anti-regime voices and a former political prisoner under the Mubarak dictatorship, was taken into military custody following public criticisms of the army's conduct on the night of 9 October, when at least 27 people were killed during a Coptic Christian protest in downtown Cairo. Like many other activists, Abd El Fattah accused the army of direct involvement in the bloodshed, a claim that appears to be supported by extensive witness reports and video footage. He was charged by military prosecutors with "inciting violence against the army".

In a secret letter from his prison cell, Abd El Fattah accuses the country's military rulers of murder and laments what he views as the army's hijacking of the revolution.
Another worrying development came in the form of "supra-constitutional" principles, which the commission to draft a new constitution for Egypt, which will be formed by the new parliament, will have to abide by or at least to take into account. The draft of these principles, presented by SCAF appointed Deputy Prime Minister Ali al-Selmy. The draft calls for the establishment of a national defence council headed by the president that would examine national security measures and be responsible for approving all military-related legislation.

The document also exclusively grants the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) the right to examine military affairs, including the armed forces budget. Military budget allocations would be listed as the first item in the national budget without detailed figures on proposed expenditures, the document suggests. It would thus be excluded from parliamentary scrutiny.

The requested stipulations are the clearest, most public expression to date of the ruling military's post-transitional political ambitions. They make clear that the council of generals, who have governed Egypt since February, hope to place themselves and their financial interests beyond civilian scrutiny even after they have handed over power.

The proposed guidelines would grant the interim military leadership veto power over drafts of the constitution and the right to dismiss and reappoint the constituent assembly that will be charged with drafting the document next year.

Sources: Bikya Masr: Egypt anger erupts after top blogger, activist detained by military, 30 October 2011; The Guardian: Egyptian activist Alaa Abd El Fattah accuses army of hijacking revolution, 2 November 2011; The Guardian: After Egypt's revolution, I never expected to be back in Mubarak's jails, 2 November 2011; Al-Masry Al-Youm: Supra-constitutional debate heats up again, 3 November 2011; Al-Masry Al-Youm: Military powers in draft constitutional document spark ire of opposition figures, 2 November 2011; Wall Street Journal: Egyptians Bristle at Military's Plan, 3 November 2011