CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt’s army will stop trying civilians in military courts when it scraps the country’s decades-old emergency law, a top general said on Monday, as activists tried to build momentum for a mass protest against military trials this weekend.
Rights groups say Egypt’s army rulers have used military courts to imprison as many as 14,000 civilians as they try to deal with follow-up waves of street protests since the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak.
They say the trials, held behind closed doors, were a common practice under Mubarak and their continued use shows how far Egypt has to go to guarantee the rule of law.
The ruling generals say the military trials are a temporary but necessary measure to deal with a wave of disorder and an increase in criminality following Mubarak’s ouster.
“General Adel al-Morsy, head of the Military Justice Commission, said that civilians will no longer be tried in military courts after the emergency law is lifted,” the official news agency MENA reported.
The protest was called for Friday by several opposition groups and activists trying to maintain pressure on the army to fulfil its promise to end a culture of official impunity under Mubarak and move swiftly to fair elections and civilian rule.
“This is an example of the kind of reactions that the new Egyptian rulers have been giving ahead of calls for big protests to contain them,” Nabil Abdel Fattah, political analyst at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, told Reuters.
“But I do not think it will work this time as the demand to end military courts for civilians is one of the oldest and most popular demands by democratic society in Egypt,” he added.
Last month, the government said it had begun procedures to end the state of emergency before parliamentary elections expected in November.
Morsy said that 11,879 civilians were tried in military courts between January 28 and August 29.
Under Mubarak, the civilians brought before military courts were most often suspects in security cases, many of them rounded up during an armed Islamist uprising in the 1990s.