Egypt’s New Leader Orders Inquiry on Killings of Protesters

July 7, 2012
By , The New York Times

CAIRO — President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt has appointed a committee to investigate the killing of protesters during and after the uprising early last year, in what appeared to be a strong challenge to the authority of Egypt’s powerful security services.

Mr. Morsi’s decree, which was issued late Thursday and was his 10th in his first week in office, created a 16-member panel to investigate the killing and wounding of “peaceful protesters.” It also ordered state institutions to cooperate with the committee’s work.

Mr. Morsi promised during his campaign to address the revolt’s most painful legacy: the killing of more than 800 protesters during the uprising that led to the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak in February 2011 and the killing of dozens of others during the transitional period that followed. The families of the victims have been angered by a lack of accountability because dozens of police officers have been acquitted after trials for the killings.

The time frame for the committee’s work — from the start of the revolt in January 2011 until the end of last month — seemed to represent an attempt by Mr. Morsi to challenge the generals who ruled Egypt during the transition and have retained broad powers for the military despite the election of a civilian leader. Mr. Morsi’s committee, in theory, has the power to investigate killings that have been attributed to the military and that occurred during protests held months after Mr. Mubarak stepped down.

“This is a chance to start addressing the problems behind the uprising,” said Heba Morayef, the Egypt director for Human Rights Watch, referring to longstanding complaints about police brutality that galvanized the protests. “It’s a chance to finally start addressing the impunity, which remained unbroken by the uprising.”

Though the committee appears to have been given broad powers to investigate the violence, it is not clear that Mr. Morsi will be able to carry out its recommendations, which are supposed to be delivered to him within two months. Of the more than 150 police officers who have been referred to trial by prosecutors since March 2011, only two are serving prison sentences, according to Human Rights Watch, which is tracking the cases.

Most of the other cases have resulted in acquittals or are still pending, the group said.

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