Egypt: Litany of Abuses Fueled Protesters' Fury
In Egypt, where protestors continued to demonstrate Tuesday for the
eighth day in a row, the use of torture by law enforcement officials
over the past two decades has contributed to the growing unrest, rights
In a new report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), the international advocacy
group claims the practice is endemic and often practiced with
"Egyptians deserve a clean break from the incredibly
entrenched practice of torture," said Joe Stork, deputy director of the
Middle East and North Africa Division at HRW, in a statement. "The
Egyptian government's foul record on this issue is a huge part of what
is still bringing crowds onto the streets today."
appointment on Sunday of Omar Suleiman as his vice president – his
first – has largely been received with disapproval by Egyptian protesters, as allegations of his involvement with torture are publicized by critics. As the head of the Egyptian General Intelligence
Service (GIS), Suleiman worked with the CIA's renditions program.
Torture and Terror
to another HRW report from six years ago, from the 1990s through 2005,
Egypt received the largest number of CIA detainees under the U.S.
intelligence agency's controversial extraordinary renditions program,
which delivered suspected terrorists to governments with questionable
rights records for interrogation.
HRW's latest report, titled
'Work on Him Until He Confesses': Impunity for Torture in Egypt",
claims that the country's State Security Investigations (SSI) – which
is responsible for monitoring political dissidents and opposition
forces and is a leg of the country's intelligence community along with
Suleiman's GIS – is Egypt's most notorious perpetrator of abuses,
including routine forced disappearances.
Nasr al-Sayed Hassan
Nasr, a former Muslim Brotherhood member, told HRW about his 60-day
detention, where a SSI officer told him that "[t]his is the biggest
citadel in the Middle East for extracting information. You are 35 meters below the ground in a place that nobody except the minister of
interior knows about."
Nasr says he was blind-folded the entire
time, beaten, electro-shocked and threatened with sexual abuse and
humiliation. Laurence Wright, author of "The Looming Tower", a history
of al Qaeda, suggests that a connection exists between the abuses of
Egypt's jails, where al Qaeda's number two, Ayman Zawahiri, was
tortured, and the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers in New York and the
"By visiting imprisonment, torture and exile upon
Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, Mubarak foreclosed any possibility of an
Islamic revolution in his own country," wrote conservative columnist
Ross Douthat in the New York Times Monday, citing Wright. "But he also
helped radicalize and internationalize his country's Islamists, pushing
men& out of Egyptian politics and into the global jihad."
state of emergency, which essentially allows security forces to
operate outside the law, has been in place in Egypt since 1967. Hosni
Mubarak, who became president in 1981, has justified the extension,
despite international denunciation, on the basis of a continued threat
With some two billion dollars in U.S. military and
economic aid pouring into Egypt every year, Washington has had to
balance its longstanding support of the Mubarak regime against public
criticisms of Cairo's repression of citizens and abuses of power.
January 2009 Wikileaks cable from U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Margaret
Scobey to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton admitted that Mubarak's
government "has not begun serious work on trying to transform the
police and security services from instruments of power that serve and
protect the regime into institutions operating in the public interest,
despite official slogans to the contrary."
In March of that
year, Clinton responded to a question about a State Department report
on Egypt's human rights record by saying, "We consider Egypt to be a
friend and& we all have room for improvement."
Impunity and Injustice
the past 20 years, Egyptian authorities have shifted from denying the
pervasiveness of allegations of torture to conceding that while abuse
does occur, complaints are investigated and brought to trial if there
is enough evidence.
But the 95-page HRW report states that
factors within Egypt's legal and institutional framework impede torture
victims from holding the authorities accountable and discourage them
from lodging complaints or following through with them. These include a
lack of prosecutorial independence, conflicts of interest within
police ranks, and witness intimidation.
Last summer, the issue
of police brutality peaked in the public's consciousness when the death
of Khaled Said gained widespread publicity. Witnesses claim Said was
arrested by police in an Internet café, dragged out into the street and
beaten to death. Khaled's family believes the authorities wanted to
punish the 28-year-old for circulating a video recording of police
corruption, HRW says.
According to the report, an investigation
into Said's case was closed after claims of "false allegations" by the
Ministry of Interior, but re-opened after organized protests and an
unusual amount of press coverage.
HRW also cited the example of
Imad al-Kabir, a microbus driver from Giza who was tortured by police
in 2006. A video of his abuse reached the Internet and sparked public
outcry and press interest, which ultimately resulted in the
prosecution and sentencing of an officer.
But human rights
groups claim the amount of attention paid to Said's case by authorities
and the conviction and sentencing which resulted from al-Kabir's case
are rare in Egypt.
According to the HRW report, government
statistics show that between 2006 and 2010, citizens filed hundreds of
charges of deaths and abuse in police custody. Egyptian courts only
convicted a handful of officers for torture and inhumane treatment.
a country where torture remains a serious and systemic problem, the
conviction of a mere seven police officers over four years reflects a
huge disconnect from reality and leaves hundreds of victims and
families without justice," Stork said.