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Egypt's military takes aim at activists for anti-Christian violence

On Oct. 9, the Army appeared to target Christians who were protesting peacefully. Egypt's military prosecution has summoned two activists, raising fears it is seeking scapegoats for violence that killed some 28 people.

By Correspondent / October 25, 2011

An Egyptian Coptic Christian lights a candle next to a wreath during a candlelight protest last week after sectarian clashes left some 28 people dead.

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Cairo, Egypt

Egypt’s military prosecution has summoned two Egyptian activists for questioning over the Army’s attack on a mostly Christian protest two weeks ago, in another indication that the Army is seeking scapegoats for the violence that killed as many as 28 people.

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The two activists, Alaa Abd El Fattah and Bahaa Saber, were due at the military prosecutor’s headquarters today for allegedly inciting violence, but their summons was postponed until Sunday, after Mr. Abd El Fattah returns from traveling abroad.

The accusations against the two heighten concern that Egypt’s military is unwilling to take responsibility for or hold accountable the troops that, according to witnesses, ran over and shot peaceful demonstrators. The military’s repressive actions have raised concern about its willingness or ability to manage the transition to civilian government.

“The whole thing is ridiculous,” Mr. Abd El Fattah said by phone from San Francisco, where he is attending a conference. “They committed a crime. They’re the accused. And the prosecutors are looking at us instead of at what actually happened.”

The move comes as Human Rights Watch warned that the Egyptian military’s failure to establish an independent investigation into the killings could suggest a coverup. The military announced shortly after the violence that military prosecution, not the public prosecutor, would control the investigation.

“The military cannot investigate itself with any independence,” says Heba Morayef, a Cairo-based researcher for Human Rights Watch. The military’s track record this year has been “absolute impunity,” she says.

No prosecutions

Not a single prosecution has been made in cases of military abuse and torture this year in which the Army promised investigations. Because the military is unwilling to hold its own accountable for the violence, “they're going to have to find these ‘hidden hand’ agendas, they have to find incitement elsewhere,” says Ms. Morayef.

They appear to be looking now to activists such as Abd El Fattah and Mr. Saber.

On Oct. 9, a crowd of thousands, mostly Christians, marched to Egypt’s state television building to protest at the government’s response to an attack on a church in southern Egypt. Witnesses said they heard shooting as they entered the square, and then saw Army vehicles driving into the crowd. They were captured on video seemingly deliberately targeting protesters. Witnesses also said military soldiers were shooting live ammunition into the crowd. As many as 28 people were killed in the attack, the majority crushed by military vehicles or shot.

Members of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), the military council ruling Egypt, presented their own version of events, saying the Army had come under attack by protesters and blaming mysterious “hidden hands” with instigating the violence. They said soldiers were not armed with live ammunition and did not deliberately try to run over protesters.

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