Egyptians held their breath as the trial of the overthrown Islamist president Muhammad Mursi kicked off last Monday. This was the second time that a former president of Egypt is charged and stands trial.
Egyptians have already witnessed and are still following the ongoing trial of the former president Hosni Mubarak who stepped down in February 2011 in the aftermath of an 18-day mass uprising. Mursi’s trial, however, is much more sensitive and serious than Mubarak’s, owing to the fact that Mursi faces a list of charges tantamount to high treason. Even before the trial kicked off, Mursi’s Islamist supporters waged a series of rallies and terrorist attacks to spread chaos and exhaust Egypt’s security apparatus, brazenly threating Egyptians and their government, and vowing that Mursi would never be made to stand “in the defendants’ booth (cage in Arabic)”. They went so far to promise they’d kidnap him and free him from the grip of justice. All this held Egyptians on tense tenterhooks, and prompted a state of high security alert.
All of a sudden, and in what brings to mind cowboy or Mafia movies, Muhammad Mursi was the super hero who had fallen in the hands of his enemies, and his devotees were plotting to save him through a hellish scorched-earth scheme. The rescued hero would then be properly fêted. Here was the perfect script for a thriller straight out of the studios and into the Egyptian street, to be witnessed live by all Egypt.
But the matter is not that simple. The threats, rallying and terrorism by the MB and their Arab and international supporters cannot be discounted. Security authorities had to take the threats seriously and act promptly with the highest security alert in anticipation of terrorist retaliation, including suicide operations that might jeopardise the life and safety of civilians.
Even though last Monday’s session had been announced to be no more than a procedural session to complete the legal requirements to start the trial, the MB were adamant they would defy and block the way to justice.
It should not be presumed that the MB terrorist plan was restricted to last Monday; the trial has a long way to go, and no one can predict when or how it would conclude. The MB’s avid appetite for terrorism does not stop at last Monday’s court session; the instigation and violence are sure to rise to boiling point as the trial advances, charges are aired, testimonies flow in, the defence manoeuvres, and the court works to maintain the procedures within their legal limits.
I do not conceal my wariness at the punitive, vengeful acts the Islamists are expected to inflict on mainstream unarmed civilians, jeopardising safety, security and lives. The gruesome terrorism we have seen throughout the months that followed the downfall of Mursi last July has made it very obvious the MB would stop at no ethical or human consideration in their target to harm this nation and disturb its peace and security. This brings me to a notion not impossible to implement: that the judge should ban publication of the proceedings of the trial, in the interest of objectivity, justice, discreetness and focus. This would take the trial away from the influence of media clamour and terrorist pressure, and preserve the rights of all the parties involved, including Mursi himself.
Cases of a serious political character, which involve national security and could include sensitive testimonies should be committed to the highest levels of secrecy. The judges should themselves be safeguarded against any pressures that might, even in the slightest manner, impair their partiality. There have been cases in Egypt and the democratic world where the judge imposed secrecy on the court sessions, banning the print and visual media from covering the details. The court would then issue a statement including a briefing on what took place inside.
The trial of Muhammad Mursi is no delightful repast to be served by the media to the public. Unarmed civilians on the street stand to pay a high price in lives and security on account of anticipated terrorist attacks. My final word is have mercy on Egyptians and on the judges.
10 November 2013