With a general amnesty for revolutionaries and moves to replace the prosecutor general, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi is trying to reposition himself as a promoter of human rights. But doubts remain.
Pressure is building on Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi to bring justice to the many revolutionaries imprisoned since 2011. Thousands of people were arrested during the bloody street battles that took place at the height of the revolution, and many were arbitrarily arrested, beaten and made to face military tribunals that often ignored legal principles and gave few a fair trial.
Ibrahim, a 26 year old arrested in February of this year during a street fight with riot police, described how brutal the police can be. "We had already been beaten by the time we arrived at the police station," he said. "It got to the stage where I didn't feel the blows anymore. At first they hit us on the head and arms. Then we got to the Interior Ministry, where we were tortured."
Ibrahim was one of the lucky ones - through various contacts, his friends managed to secure his release. But there are plenty more still behind bars, at the mercy of the police.
Doubts over Morsi's motives
To the surprise of many, Morsi has now declared general amnesty, ordering the release of anyone who was arrested for crimes that "supported the revolution." Mohamed Zaraa of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies cautiously welcomed the declaration. "The decree is a good step towards justice," he said. "But it is too early to judge, because at the moment it is just a piece of paper. We want to see how it is implemented."
The non-Islamist opposition in particular doubts that Morsi is interested in finding a legal resolution to the country's violent recent history, or that he wants to strengthen human rights. They think he is more interested in his opinion poll ratings - and to back up their claim, they point to the amnesty's timing: 100 days after Morsi came to power.
Though the amnesty did lift his popularity, Morsi's balance sheet after 100 days in office is less than impressive. The president has barely reformed the much-feared interior ministry.
The amnesty order was also done in light of a demonstration planned for October 12 at Tahrir Square by non-Islamist opposition groups. Observers like Zaraa believe Morsi made the order in part to relieve pressure from such groups - the protest was supposed to embarrass Morsi by calling for the release of imprisoned demonstrators. "He may have made the declaration to improve his image among the broad range of revolutionary supporters and other civilian groups," Zaraa said.
'The prosecutor general must be prosecuted'
Morsi's attempt to remove Egypt's prosecutor general Abdel Maguid Mahmoud - who reamined in power from the Mubarak era - could also be seen in the same light. Morsi wants to make Abdel Maguid his ambassador to the Vatican, since sacking him is not legally possible. But the prosecutor general, much resented for his politicized rulings, has so far refused to resign, and defiantly returned to work Saturday.
Abdel Maguid came under fire on Wednesday, during a trial of 24 members of the Mubarak regime accused of organizing a deadly attack on demonstrators during the 2011 revolution. All 24 were acquitted for alleged lack of evidence, but many analysts believe that Abdel Maguid acted to protect the defendants by not allowing evidence against them to be presented to the court.
Fatah Nour, a 25-year-old supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, protested at Tahrir Square on Friday to support Morsi's decision. "I demand that the justice system be cleaned up and that the prosecutor general be prosecuted," he said. "I don't think he should be made ambassador."
'We need more than a few decrees'
Despite the amnesty and the attempt to remove the prosecutor general, human rights activists accuse the president of neglecting human rights and of failing to reform the police.
Neither of the issues was tackled in the Morsi's 100-day program, says Zaraa. "We need more than a decree here or a decree there," he said. "We need a systematic reform of the security sector and a system to work through the past in the legal system."
Up until now, Morsi has not been able to convince activists and the liberal opposition that he is concerned with more than his own popularity. Because of this and other issues, tensions between the non-Islamist opposition and Islamist Morsi supporters is greater than ever.
During a small demonstration on Friday, tensions erupted into violent clashes on Tahrir Square, where more than 100 people ended up getting injured.