Mina Fayek. All Rights Reserved.
On 21 June 2014 a group of Egyptian activists and movements organized a protest to demand the release of political detainees and to revoke a protest law that was set in place last November. This was all part of an International Day of Solidarity with Egyptian Detainees. According to the independent statistical database Wiki Thawra, from July 2013 till now there are more than 41,000 arrests.
The route of yesterday's march was planned from the Ahram metro station in Heliopolis (Cairo) to the Egyptian presidential palace (Ittihadiya) in the same district. After gathering we noticed that the Central Security Forces' (CSF) trucks were stationed on the road to the palace, so the organizers of the protest – in an attempt to avoid confrontation – decided to change the route and head towards the heart of Heliopolis rather than the palace. This apparently confused the police because the roads the protest was moving in were relatively narrow and crowded, which slowed their large trucks down.
After reaching El Gamea Square, which is very close to the Heliopolis police station, a group of thugs suddenly appeared from behind the protest and started throwing glass bottles and stones at the protestors. I managed to take shelter inside a nearby building with some people I didn’t know and miraculously avoided confrontation with the thugs.
After some to-ing and fro-ing between thugs and protesters, we managed to get out of the nook we were hiding in and to our surprise, the thugs had disappeared and were replaced instantaneously by police forces who started firing teargas canisters and sound bombs.
The police went on a frenzy to a degree that when we reached the next square, Ismailia Square, they started to aim teargas at the protesters, however, it actually landed on cars that happened to be in the square and nothing to do with the protest.
We then reached Safir Square where the same problem presented itself – the streets were so crowded with cars that the police forces couldn’t keep up with the march. But in every such instance thugs would appear and I actually saw a police officer giving them instructions. Their task was to basically stall protestors till state security cars could make their way in.
A moment of dark irony in all this was when the thugs attacked a public bus on the basis that one of the protestors had jumped in. They stopped the bus, attacked it, and tried to pull him out. They beat him up badly, and his fiancée was also hurt. After a short while, a police car arrived but instead of stopping the thugs, the police were busy trying to disperse the protest as a whole, and ignored them as they beat up the man to within an inch of his life. Of course it turned out that the man had nothing to do with the protest, but this has become the norm in Egypt. Human lives are of very little value.
Mina Fayek. All Rights Reserved.
I saw one protester being severely beaten up by both the thugs and police before he was rounded up and put inside a police car. The thugs continued to beat him with sticks, some even using knives, as he was put inside the car. It was so chaotic that I actually thought they were attacking the police car.
Some are arguing that the locals and members of the neighbourhood who are fed up with protests, decided to violently disperse it themselves. This is not true for many reasons I personally witnessed: firstly, people from the neighborhood and shop owners saw us from the start of the protest and never intervened before the thugs appeared. Secondly, the thugs cursed shop owners when they tried to save the badly beaten or gave refuge to protesters who sought a refuge with them. Finally, I spoke to several shop owners and they told me that they knew the thugs and that they were associated with the Heliopolis police station.
Dozens of peaceful protesters were arrested, few of them were acquitted while those still in detention have been served with trumped up charges. They have been accused of protesting in violation of the protest-law, disrupting national security, attacking public and private properties, and last but not least, being heavily armed. Ironically, the protest which was peaceful and demanded freedom for political detainees ended with more of them locked up, including human rights activists.
The regime supporters and propagandists claim that the protest law would impose “law and order” which is certainly a dire need, yet the police themselves never follow the procedures of dispersing an “unauthorized” protest as stipulated in this law. Furthermore, after reading the law multiple times, I couldn’t find the part where it states that thugs can be hired to confront opponents.
The state simply doesn’t abide by its own draconian laws. In short, to claim that the current state is a “state of law” is factually incorrect and absurd.
Alia Mossallam contributed to the translation of parts of this testimony.