Cairo: Egypt is launching a civilian investigation of the country`s former military rulers for their alleged role in the killing of protesters during their 18 months in power, a court official and the state news agency reported on Monday.
International and local rights groups have pressed Egypt`s newly-elected President and other authorities to probe the council of military officers who ruled the country from the February 2011 overthrow of Hosni Mubarak to this summer. At least 120 protesters died in clashes with security forces and soldiers during this time.
It is unprecedented for civilians to probe officers, normally protected from oversight by anyone outside the military. Rights groups say that this has given the army a sense of impunity.
The court official said that an investigative judge, Tharwat Hamad, was assigned to look into accusations against Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi and other members of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to reporters.
Lawyers say that Hamad had also presided over the investigation into the killing of 26 Coptic Christian protesters and a soldier in October 2011.
It is not clear how far the investigative judge will be able to press the probe, or summon the generals for questioning. SCAF passed a law before giving up power that protects them from civilian investigation even after they are out of service.
Lawyers say the investigator might be able to find a legal way around the ban -- for example, summoning the generals in their capacity as political leaders at the time -- or might refer the case to a military prosecutor.
Egyptians have filed over 100 complaints with the country`s prosecutors against the military rulers, including Tantawi, his No 2 Lt Gen Sami Anan, and other military generals, who were sitting on the military council in charge of running the country since February 2011.
The generals handed over power to the country`s first elected civilian President at the end of June. But the transitional period was marred by violent clashes with protesters who accused the generals of mismanaging the country, or doubted their intent to step down.