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EGYPT: Activist to stand trial in military court for tunneling into Gaza

February 4, 2009 |  7:36 am


An outspoken critic of Hosni Mubarak’s regime is expected to be tried in a military court Thursday on grounds of crossing into Gaza through illegal channels.

Magdy Ahmed Hussein, a journalist with strong Islamist leanings, was accused of sneaking last month through tunnels that link the Egyptian frontier with the Gaza Strip. The tunnels have become a growing nuisance for the Egyptian government. Israel, United States and European countries frequently have criticized Egypt for not doing enough to control the smuggling of weapons to the Hamas government in Gaza.

Hussein’s wife, Naglaa Qalyoubi, told the press that her husband went to Gaza to show his support to the Palestinians during the war. She added that he spent a week there and met with a number of Hamas officials. He was arrested Saturday on his way back to Egypt through the legal Rafah border crossing.

Hussein served as the editor in chief of al-Shaab (Arabic for "the people") newspaper, the mouthpiece of the opposition Labor Party in the 1990s. After instigating large and violent protests over a book that allegedly undermined the Islamic faith, the paper was closed down and the party frozen in 2000. Despite the blow, party leaders pursued their activism online, creating a popular political website.

In the same year, Hussein was convicted and sentenced to a jail term for libeling a former agriculture minister and deputy prime minister.

On his party's website, an anonymous commentator defended him, saying: "The Egyptian government gave us and Magdy Hussein no other choice than [crossing illegally]. Is there any 'formal' way we can go there and express our support to our people in Gaza? O, Egyptian government! What can we do so you can let us cross into Gaza through legal and respectable channels? You have closed all doors, so what can we do?" 

Egypt has a long history of referring civilians to military courts, where defendants are denied the right to appeal. According to some local human-rights advocates, 34 cases with civilian suspects were referred to military courts between 1992 and 2000.

The trial of about 40 senior members of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2007 stands as the last case when civilians were tried before military judges.

Local and international human-rights organizations have dismissed such a practice as an explicit violation of human rights.

—Noha El-Hennawy in Cairo

Photo: Magdy Hussein in an image from his party's website.The type below the photo says: "The Struggler Magdy Hussein. What's his fault? Is it that he called for the dignity of each free Arab against the Zionist entity? Is it that he expressed the will of the Egyptian street, unlike the regime?" Credit: Labor Party Website

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