Middle East

'Battle of the Camels' acquittals shock Egypt

Image caption Supporters of then Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak charged on camels through crowds of protesters in Tahrir Square

Egyptian media and public figures have reacted with surprise and some anger after Cairo's Criminal Court acquitted all 24 defendants in the Battle of the Camels case.

Several opposition activists see the ruling as a deal between the governing Muslim Brotherhood and officials of the Mubarak era, while others accuse the former ruling Military Council of concealing evidence.

The Muslim Brotherhood itself reacted angrily to the ruling, and says it will take part in protests planned for the coming days.

'Shock and anger'

The state-owned Al-Ahram al-Massai newspaper sums up the mood in bold red letters - "The shock of the camel". It says supporters of the revolution see the acquittal as a "black day" and are "overwhelmed with shock and anger".

Another official daily, Al-Jumhuriya, called the ruling "surprising".

Evidence 'concealed'

Leading activist Mamdouh Hamza told private Dream 2 TV that he held the Military Council responsible.

"They were supposed to uncover the killers through their own investigations," he said, calling on the new government to seek out the "real murderers". Dream 2 presenter Wael al-Ibrashi accused the judge of being the "prime reason for the case being ruined".

The Revolutionary Youth Union demanded the immediate dismissal of Prosecutor-General Abdel Magid Mahmoud and an investigation of the Military Council over its alleged "concealing the evidence in the case".

Brotherhood 'deal'

Mohammed Abdel Aziz, a leading figure in the opposition Kifaya Movement, said the ruling was part of the "reconciliation between the Muslim Brotherhood and the former regime", and complained to the Al-Misri al-Yawm website that President Mohammed Morsi had not yet tackled "large-scale corruption" within the judiciary.

Karim al-Shair of the Daght group accused "some Muslim Brotherhood elements" of involvement in the Battle of the Camels, telling Al-Misri al-Yawm that this explained the acquittals.

The opposition Revolutionary Socialist Movement's Hesham Fuad dubbed the verdict a "farce" and "just one more in a series of acquittals of defendants from the former regime over the killing of revolutionaries". "If President Morsi claims to belong to the revolution, he should have ordered a retrial of the killers of the revolutionaries," Mr Fuad said.

Ex-presidential candidate Hamdin Sabahi made the same point about the "continuing series of acquittals for symbols of the previous regime" on his Twitter account, and demanded "swift revolutionary justice, as wasting the blood of the martyrs is a crime against the revolution".

The pro-Mubarak Facebook page I am sorry, Mr President! alleges Muslim Brotherhood skulduggery in the case with a cartoon of President Morsi and Muslim Brotherhood spiritual leader Mohammed Badi agreeing to use the Battle of the Camels case to distract "the kids" from the failures of the president's first 100 days in office.

Muslim Brotherhood Secretary-General Mahmoud Hussein himself said the group was shocked by the verdict and announced on the group's Ikhwanonline website that the Brotherhood would join in "expressing the anger of the Egyptian people" at the nationwide protests.

Mr Hussein called for a retrial and said he was "certain" that President Morsi "shares the same feelings with the whole Egyptian people".

Acquittals 'provocative'

There were some voices in defence of the judge, if not necessarily the verdict. Journalist Samih Abdullah told the Good Morning Egypt talk show on state-run Channel 1 TV that the judge had acted with "impartiality".

The opposition left-wing Karama party also said the judge had acted correctly on the basis of the evidence presented in court, and called on the president as supreme commander of the armed forces to answer the question "Who killed the revolutionaries?"

President Morsi's legal adviser Mohammed Fuad Jadallah made a similar point about "insufficient evidence" in an interview on private Al-Nahar TV. He reassured viewers that new cases would be filed against new defendants on the basis of evidence being gathered by a committee set up by presidential decree.

"All martyrs and every injured person will get justice," he said after presenter Mahmoud Saad had called the acquittals "provocative to many people, including me".

The argument about evidence in court seems unlikely to appease the revolutionaries. The leading opposition Facebook page We are all Khalid Said dismissed the plea under the headline "No evidence" by posting a video of Musab al-Shair, a man badly injured in the violence. "What papers do they need when my body is the evidence?" he said.

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