The testimony of Egypt's top general in the trial of former President Hosni Mubarak was postponed Sunday after the military leader said he was too busy with national security matters, including repercussions from a mob attack on the Israeli embassy over the weekend.
The much anticipated testimony of Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the leader of the country's ruling military council and a confidant of Mubarak's for decades, was rescheduled for Sept. 24. The delay came less than two days after protesters broke into the Israeli embassy in Cairo. Three people died and more than 1,000 were injured when demonstrators clashed with security forces.
The incident raised questions over the ability of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to control unrest in a country increasingly angry over the slow pace of political and economic reform since Mubarak fell from power in February.
Many Egyptians have been skeptical that Tantawi and his chief of staff, Sami Anan, would ever testify at Mubarak's trial. The former president is charged with complicity to commit murder in the deaths of hundreds of protesters during last winter's revolution. When the general didn't appear in court Sunday, it seemed to confirm suspicions.
“Now we are waiting to see if Tantawi and Anan will testify and what they will say, but any further postponements will surely raise mine and other people’s concerns. SCAF shouldn’t expect anything but rage if they don’t testify,” said Mohamed Maher, a 31-year-old dentist.
The prosecution is counting on Tantawi’s testimony to rescue its case after nine prosecution witnesses last week failed to provide evidence that Mubarak and his interior minister, Habib Adbli, ordered the crackdown that left more than 800 people dead between Jan. 25 and Feb. 11. But many analysts doubt the general will say anything to damage his former boss.
Tantawi, who was Mubarak’s defense minister for 20 years before taking over the country’s rule on Feb. 11, said in a televised speech in May that during the revolution, SCAF members met and decided against shooting protesters. Civil rights lawyers have suggested that those comments indicated that the Mubarak regime did hand down orders for security forces to shoot protesters.
“I’m very pleased that Judge Refaat stood strong and set new dates for Tantawi and Anan to personally show up for testimony in court,” Tamer Gomaa, a lawyer representing families of 11 killed during the revolution, told Los Angeles Times.
Judge Refaat earlier decided to ban any media coverage of testimony by Tantawi, Anan and former Vice President Omar Suleiman.
-- Amro Hassan in Cairo
Photo: Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of Egypt's ruling military council. Credit: Reuters