CAIRO: The family of Tamer Allam, a civilian currently facing charges in a military court, says their son and brother is being tried only for getting in an argument with a high-ranking military member over a long line at a gas station.
Perihane Allam, Tamer’s sister, wrote Saturday on Twitter that everything started when she and her brother were with their family on their way back to Cairo after spending a summer vacation in Fayed, Ismailia. “Our cars ran out of gas, and we had to go to the Watania Gas Station, as it was the only one on the road. It was very crowded, and we had to wait a long time,” she tweeted.
Many of Egypt’s gas stations are directly staffed and managed by military personnel, and that, Perihane said, is where the trouble began.
When they arrived at the station, Tamer stepped out of the car to ask an employee wearing civilian clothes the reason for the long delay. The employee said it was due to damage at the station, but then another employee approached, this time in a military uniform, and angrily demanded of Tamer what he wanted, according to Perihane on Twitter.
Perihane tweeted the soldier’s way of talking was “provoking” and a heated exchange ensued. Her father tried to intervene to calm it down, but this only made things worse. The station manager, a man who identified himself as Col. Khaled Mohamed Shehata, then approached loudly and demanded “what’s going on?”
“My brother was very agitated, and when he tried to tell Shehata what happened, [Shehata] didn’t like his way of talking, and called him an animal,” Perihane said.
Calling someone an animal, while not considered profanity, is extremely insulting in Arabic.
Both men then began exchanging insults.
Perihane tweeted that from this point the situation devolved quickly, and military police forces arrived after being requested by Shehata. “The colonel ordered them to arrest my brother and they damaged his car and broke all the glass in it. They even tried to arrest me because I was shouting, but people intervened, and prevented them from doing so.”
Now, Tamer stands accused in military court of insulting an officer and attacking soldiers at Watania Gas Station on the Suez-Cairo road, all over some heated words with a gas station manager, albeit a high-ranking military one.
Article 204 of Egypt’s 2014 Constitution states that, “No civilian shall face trial before the Military Court,” before adding “except for crimes that constitute a direct assault against military facilities or camps of the Armed Forces, or their equivalents.”
What actually constitutes assault is left vague.
Perihane tweeted that her family tried to call the police, but when they arrived, the military forces ordered them to stand down, saying that the gas station was a military area.
Sara Al-Shrief, an activist with the No Military Trials for Civilians Initiative, told The Cairo Post Monday that they have been following Tamer’s case, and that he was tried Sunday by the military police forces before his case was transferred to the Suez Military Court on accusations of insulting a military colonel and attacking soldiers doing their job.
This is something Perihane said he did not do. He is also accused of attempting to escape when he returned to his car.
“Whatever these accusations, it’s a still just a fight at a gas station,” Shrief told The Cairo Post.
Tamer was released Sunday night after paying 1,000 EGP in bail ($140) according to Shrief, but he still faces military charges.
She added she didn’t expect Tamer would receive a fair trial, as in similar cases lawyers were banned from attending trial deliberations, and usually informed of the final sentence after the end of the trial.
“We only have one side of the story, the victim’s, and he’s the most vulnerable,” Shrief said. “The other side represented by the colonel isn’t expected to say anything, as they usually don’t talk without previous permission from their commands.”
“How is a military trial of a civilian being accused by a military colonel expected to be fair?”