CAIRO (AP) — An Egyptian fact-finding mission determined that Hosni Mubarak watched the uprising against him unfold through a live TV feed at his palace, despite his later denial that he knew the extent of the protests and crackdown against them, a member of the mission said Wednesday.
The mission’s findings increase pressure for a retrial of the 84-year old ousted president, who is already serving a life sentence for the deaths of 900 protesters. But its report could hold both political gains and dangers for his successor, Mohammed Mursi. A new prosecution of Mubarak would be popular, since many Egyptians were angered that he was convicted only for failing to stop the killing of protesters, rather than for ordering the crackdown.
But the report also implicates the military and security officials in protester deaths. Any move to prosecute them could spark a backlash from powerful generals and others who still hold positions under Mursi’s government.
Rights activists said they would watch carefully how aggressively Mursi pursues the evidence, detailed by a fact-finding mission he commissioned.
“This report should be part of the democratic transformation of Egypt and restructuring of security agencies,” Ahmed Ragheb, a member of the commission and a rights lawyer, told The Associated Press. “At the end of the day, there will be no national reconciliation without revealing the truth, and ensuring accountability.”
Mursi, an Islamist from the Muslim Brotherhood, asked the commission to send the report to the chief prosecutor Talaat Abdullah to investigate new evidence, his office said Wednesday.
Mursi recently appointed Abdullah to replace a Mubarak holdover who many considered an obstacle to strongly prosecuting former regime officials. Some judges criticized the appointment as a political move to continue to wield leverage over the prosecutor post.
The case will be a test whether Abdullah will conduct a thorough process of holding officials responsible. Some rights activists were already disappointed that Mursi didn’t empower the fact-finding commission itself to turn the investigations into prosecutions and avoid political influence.
The 700-page report on protester deaths the past two years was submitted Wednesday to Mursi by the commission, made up of judges, rights lawyers, and representatives from the Interior Ministry and the intelligence, as well as families of victims.
Mursi formed the commission soon after coming to office in June as Egypt’s first freely elected president after campaign promises to order retrials of former regime figures if new evidence was revealed.
The trial of Mubarak and other figures from his regime left the public deeply unconvinced justice was done. The prosecution was limited in scope, focusing only on the first few days of the 18-day uprising and on two narrow corruption cases. Lawyers have since criticized the case as shoddy, based mainly on evidence collected by battered and widely hated police in the days following the uprising.
In the verdicts last summer, Mubarak and his two sons were acquitted on corruption charges. His former interior minister was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for complicity in the crackdown, while six top security aides were acquitted for lack of evidence.
Mubarak was convicted to a life sentence of failing to prevent the deaths of protesters during the uprising, which ended with his fall on Feb. 11, 2011. Many Egyptians believed he should have been held responsible for ordering the killings, in addition to widespread corruption, police abuse and political wrongdoing under his regime.
One key new finding by the commission was that Mubarak closely monitored the crackdown.
Ragheb said state TV had designated an encrypted satellite TV station that fed live material from cameras installed in and around Tahrir Square directly to Mubarak’s palace throughout clashes between protesters and security forces.
“Mubarak knew of all the crimes that took place directly. The images were carried to him live, and he didn’t even need security reports,” said Ragheb. “This entails a legal responsibility” in the violence against the protesters, including the infamous Camel Battle, where men on horses and camel and other Mubarak supporters stormed Tahrir.
At least 11 people are said to have been killed in that attack, and some 25 former ruling party members tried in the case were acquitted.
In questioning for his trial, Mubarak said he was kept in the dark by top aides as to the gravity of the situation, and fended off charges that he ordered or knew of the deadly force.
Khaled Abu Bakr, another lawyer who represented some of the victims in the uprising, said a retrial could “add more jail time if new charges appeared, and it could also change the penalty from life sentence to the death penalty.”
More politically explosive is the commission’s look at the 17 months of military rule after Mubarak’s fall, when activists protesting the generals’ conduct of the transition clashed repeated with security forces in violence that killed at least 100 protesters.
The report clearly established that security officials and the military used live ammunition against protesters during the transition and the anti-Mubarak uprising, Ragheb said.
The military repeatedly denied firing live ammunition, despite several protesters killed by bullets and pellets and despite reports by rights groups holding the army responsible.
The report established that at least one of nearly 70 missing since the uprising was tortured and died in a military prison, said Ragheb. It also details abuse by military and security officers in the days following Mubarak’s ouster, including the beating and abusing of women protesters and the conducting of “virginity tests” to intimidate and humiliate them.
Ragheb refused to give further specifics. The report was not made public. But he told Al-Masry Al-Youm daily thatit recommends summoning hundreds for questioning in protester killings.
Several rights activists raised concerns that findings implicating any military officials or security figures in the current Interior Ministry will be ignored.
“There is every reason for Mursi and the prosecutor general he appointed to act on the findings and make sure they are translated into prompt prosecution,” said Hossam Bahgat, a human rights lawyer from the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.
“It will be a major embarrassment not to do anything,” he said, adding that it would also be “clear evidence” of what many believe to be an agreement by Mursi to grant immunity to military leaders for any alleged crimes during their rule.
Mursi appointed the latest commission at a time when his relations with the generals were rough. Just before officially transferring rule to Mursi, the military had issued a decree stripping the presidency of most of its powers.
After barely a month in office, Mursi pushed out the top generals who ruled during the transition and reclaimed his powers. His move brought no protest from the military, which many took as a sign of a backroom deal.
Gamal Eid, a lawyer who has represented protester families, pointed out that prosecutors and the court ignored a previous fact-finding mission that established evidence that could have been more incriminating.
Heba Morayef, a researcher with Human Rights Watch in Egypt, said a “protect the revolution” law recently issued by Mursi providing for new investigations into protester killings made no mention of the commission, meaning its findings were not binding and could be ignored.
“It is a wasted opportunity,” she said. “Without a clear implementing mechanism, you leave room for political compromise at the expense of accountability.”