A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Could Prosecutors Call Field Marshal Tantawi in the Mubarak Trial?

UPDATE:  Mubarak's defense lawyer is now talking about calling Tantawi as well, and now AFP is quoting a "security official" as saying Tantawi "most likely" would appear if the defense requests it.

The images  yesterday of Husni Mubarak in a hospital bed inside the defendant's cage at his trial may have been far more important than whatever the trial's ultimate verdict may be: the image of an Arab leader facing charges, not from some revolutionary kangaroo court but before a regular civilian court (though convening at the Police Academy for security reasons), charged with specific crimes under pre-existing laws. The fact that it happened at all is probably more important than the ultimate  results; given his age and illness, not everyone is out for blood. I'm certainly no expert on Arab legal systems — fortunately there's a good piece today by Nathan Brown, who is — but one potentially explosive area is already emerging: since Mubarak is charged with killing protesters, and since the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has said the Army refused to obey such orders, attorneys for the victims want to call SCAF head Field Marshal Tantawi, Chief of Staff Sami ‘Enan, former Vice President &lsxquo;Omar Suleiman,  and others to testify as to what orders were given and by whom. (And see the update above: the defense apparently wants to call him, too.)

Given Tantawi's almost total absence from the public eye (one public speech and a lot of photos with visiting dignitaries, so far as I have seen), is it possible he would be willing to come out of his cloak of invisibility and testify in public court against the man whom he served as Defense Minister for the past decade? It seems unlikely; as this piece notes, the Army is engaged in a delicate balancing act with this trial of one of its own, trying to placate the young revolutionaries while holding on to its own prerogatives.

The judges, of course, may have no intention of letting Tantawi be called as a witness. But I suspect the Catch-22 here is going to be the fact that, if I read that Ahram Online story correctly, apparently when a civilian court calls a serving military officer, a military judge must approve the request. And unless the Field Marshal is eager for a day in court (which he's shown little sign of being), I don't think a military judge is likely to allow the subpoena (or whatever procedural mechanism  the Egyptian justice system uses).

But this highly public trial could see some interesting arguments in the meantime.

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