CAIRO – Egypt's military prosecution charged a prominent activist Sunday with slandering and inciting violence against the country's ruling generals through social networking sites, lawyers said.
This is one of the most serious charges levied against activists who have played a key role in mobilizing hundreds of thousands of Egyptians to the protests which forced President Hosni Mubarak to step down 18 days later.
It is also the strongest indication that the country's military rulers for the last six months may be running out of patience with criticism.
Lawyer Ali Atef said the case of Asmaa Mahfouz, one of the faces of Egypt's revolution, was "a warning" to other activists against criticizing the military.
"It was a terrifying (interrogation) session," Atef said. "When people are slapped with these charges because they expressed their opinion, this is grave. It is a warning aimed at all activists, bloggers and ordinary people."
Mahfouz was released Sunday on $3,400 bail after more than four hours of interrogation. Atef said activists collected money to pay the bail and ensure her release pending trial. The incitement charges could carry a sentence of more than 10 years. A trial date is up to the discretion of the military prosecutor.
Atef said the prosecutor cited as evidence Mahfouz's writing on Facebook and Twitter and a call to a private TV station in which she accused the country's rulers of planning an attack on protesters. The lawyer said she was quoted as calling the military council as the "council of dogs."
She is accused of inciting violence by criticizing on Twitter the slow procedure of trials, and warning that people may take justice into their own hands.
"Bottom line, if the judiciary doesn't get us our rights, no one should be crossed if there are armed groups, who carry out assassinations, since there is no law and no judiciary. No one should be crossed," Mahfouz wrote in an Aug. 10 tweet.
Late on Sunday, Mahfouz appeared on a private TV station, saying the interrogation didn't scare her, but reminded her of old regime ways.
"The only thing I regret after this (interrogation) is that we didn't work hard enough in the streets and with the people to explain why we need to continue this revolution ... until this country gets what it deserves," she told a late night show on ONTV.
In the six months since Mubarak stepped down, many activists have grown critical of the military rulers because of the slow pace of change, including putting former regime officials on trial. Using military courts for civilians has also been a cause for concern among protesters.
Mubarak was replaced Feb. 11 by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, led by Mubarak's longtime Defense Minister Marshall Hussein Tantawi.
The protesters held rallies and sit-ins directed at the military. Chants of "Down with the military rule," were repeated during many rallies, and where soon replaced with "Down with the Marshall," in reference to Tantawi. Bloggers organized a day of blogging against the military's management of the country's affairs.
Political cartoons against the military council have also sprung up. In one widely shared on social networking sites, the military council is portrayed as a guard dog protecting Tahrir Square from protesters.
After sending Mubarak to a criminal trial, the military forcefully broke down a sit-in that had been held at Tahrir Square for nearly a month demanding justice for the killing of nearly 900 protesters during the revolution. Mubarak appeared in court Aug. 3 and is scheduled to appear again Monday.
Military troops have prevented protesters from returning to the epicenter of the uprising, occupying its main garden and maintaining a heavy security deployment there. On Friday, several hundred protesters held a collective traditional Ramadan meal there amid security presence, but ended their gathering before the night was through.
The military rulers have also accused activists of receiving foreign funds to destabilize the country — one of the charges Mubarak's regime used against his opponents. In recent statements, military council members singled out two activist groups — called April 6 and Kefaya (or Enough) — in what appeared to be an attempt to discredit them.
Mahfouz is a founding member of April 6.
Leading democracy advocate and Nobel Prize Laureate Mohamed ElBaradei decried giving Mahfouz a military trial.
"Military trials for young activists, while Mubarak & co. stand before civilian courts, is a legal farce. Don't abort the revolution," he wrote on Twitter.
A group of protesters outside the military prosecutor's office scuffled with security who attempted to break them up. The protesters were chanting against the council and putting civilians on military trials.
In another practice that appears to harken back to the Mubarak era, Egypt's prosecutor general on Sunday charged an imprisoned Jordanian national and an Israeli with espionage with the aim of harming national interest. The two were referred to a state security court but no date has been set for the trial.
During the uprising and since Mubarak's ouster, Egyptian authorities have often warned against unspecified "foreign" attempts to destabilize the country.
Egypt, like other Arab states, has a long history of blaming internal problems on Israeli and foreign saboteurs.
A U.S.-born Israeli has been held in Egypt on spying charges since June.
Egypt's official news agency, MENA, said the Jordanian national was arrested in April after reports that he had been cooperating with his Israeli partner to aid the Mossad.
According to the intelligence reports published by MENA, the Jordanian is a communication engineer, specializing in satellite telecom. He is accused of conspiring to transfer international calls to Egypt through Israel, MENA said.