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Egypt's Military Brass And The Officers Who Stood With The Revolution

One year ago, several young Egyptian army officers made a very public showing alongside democracy protesters in Tahrir Square. They were swiftly arrested, and are currently serving prison time. As their families demand answers, other soldiers are quietly

The people and the army, in Cairo (Gigi Ibrahim)
The people and the army, in Cairo (Gigi Ibrahim)
CAIRO - Just one year ago, Egypt's ruling generals were faced with the first public collective act of defiance from within the ranks of the military.

On 8 April last year, 22 officers serving in the army, most of them in uniform, joined protesters in Tahrir Square to announce their support for the continuing revolution. The officers were arrested in a brutal military raid on the square that resulted in at least one civilian death, and are now serving two to three years in prison.

This first breaking of ranks, though perhaps the largest, has not been the last.

Since then, several other officers — who seem to have been unable to balance the revolutionary zeal that gripped the nation with the strict principles of obedience and political neutrality that govern their behavior in the army — have chosen to voice their political opinions, reflecting support for the revolution and criticism of their commanders, according to supporters of the officers and their lawyer, Mohamed al-Rayes.

The repetition of these acts throughout the year indicates growing resentment within the military, albeit among a limited number that doesn't threaten to create a real internal division, according to experts.

The April 8 officers announced that they decided to go down to Tahrir Square to prove to the people that they in fact stood with them, unlike the military leaders who announced that they were on the side of the revolution and acted otherwise.

Peers in the square

One incident that officers recalled is when Supreme Council of the Armed Forces member Mokhtar al-Molla addressed officers in a meeting with one of the units and said, "These are some kids that went too far and we will stop them," in reference to the revolutionaries.

"He forgot that these officers are the same as the youths of the country that he was talking about," said retired military officer Tarek Wadi", the father of one of the 8 April officers, Mohamed Wadi".

"They wanted to warn the people, to tell them the military council is not on your side — if they wanted any harm, they would have gone down with their weapons," he said.

However, the officers were criticized by many for having sought refuge amid an unarmed crowd of protesters.

Mohamed Wadi" has already served time for a poem that he wrote in 2010 in which he harshly criticized the leadership of the military and the country, hinting at corruption on both levels and warning of an imminent rebellion. In March 2011, Wadi" was pardoned of his one-year-sentence following the revolution, only to be arrested again three weeks later for joining protesters in the square in civilian clothes.

The officers were initially sentenced to 10 years in prison, though the sentences were later reduced to two and three years.

Nesreen, one of the founders of the Supporters of the April 8 Officers Movement, said the public apathy toward the officers' case is dangerous because it makes them easy prey for the military to pin more charges on them while they are in custody. The families also complain about the difficult conditions their imprisoned relatives face. After he continued writing poems from his prison cell and leaked them out, Wadi" was moved last month to solitary confinement in an Alexandria prison.

SCAF members Mohsen al-Fangary and Mahmoud Hegazy held a meeting with the officers' families last Thursday. Some parents said animosity toward their sons was apparent. "Our children are being punished, but those who stripped a girl of her clothes, the officer who conducted virginity tests and those who killed people with live ammunition are left free," said the mother of Wadi".

Crimes attributed to military officers have been publicized throughout the year. They include reports of virginity tests on female detainees, officers' running over protesters with military vehicles during an October march, and a widely circulated picture that showed soldiers stripping a woman naked at a December protest.

Read the full article at Al Masry Al Youm

photo - Gigi Ibrahim

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