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Egypt: the police state

Peaceful protesters holding up signs and chanting are not a threat to national security. The authorities and security officials are a threat to people’s security.

Some people ask me why demonstrations are still taking place and why the “revolutionary youth” are not giving the interim government a chance to implement “the roadmap” to democracy. This assumption fails to recognize that the only people who agreed to this roadmap are those in power; there was no general consensus.

With the Egyptian military’s removal of the Muslim Brotherhood from power, local media immediately changed its narrative, de-humanizing in the process the pro-Morsi camp and praising the military that would save Egypt from “terrorism.” Since then they have been downplaying clear attempts by the authorities to stifle the ongoing revolution and to provide further protection for the police force whose brutal tactics provoked the uprising in the first place.

It was only two years ago that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) was leading Egypt through its first “transitional period.” During that time thousands of protestors and activists were detained and tried in military courts, young women were subjected to virginity tests – which Sisi, Egypt’s de facto ruler, condoned as a necessary step in protecting the army from accusations of rape – peaceful protesters were brutally murdered - the Maspero massacre, the Mohamed Mahmoud clashes, and many more. All of these events took place under military rule - the very same military that now supposedly has Egypt’s best interests at heart.

The events of this year have confirmed that nothing has changed since then and that dissent will be crushed. The first clear sign of this was the dispersal of the pro-Morsi sit-ins at Nahda and Rab’aa in mid-August, the latter of which has been called the worst massacre in modern Egyptian history. On a basic human rights level, there should have been uproar at the atrocities that took place. Ironically, the Minister of Interior Morsi had appointed is the same minister, Mohamed Ibrahim, in power now.

On November 24, interim President Adly Mansour officially approved a new protest law granting the Ministry of Interior vast powers. This law requires ‘notification’ (subject to refusal) of the MoI a few days prior to planned demonstrations – defined as any public gathering of more than 10 people.

Violations of this law can result in large fines as well as jail sentences. On the other hand, security forces have the right to gradually increase their use of force on demonstrators, as long as they give prior warning, and to use water cannons, tear gas and clubs.

On November 26 a small number of peaceful protesters convened in front of Egypt’s Upper House (Shura Council) to object to the constitutional committee’s November 20 vote in favour of military trials for civilians. The ‘No to Military Trials’ group have been fighting to ban these trials since 2011; between February and September 2011 alone a supposed 12,000 civilians were on military trial.  In this video it is very clear that the ‘No to Military Trials’ demonstration was peaceful. The protesters were not in any way provoking the authorities, even though the Ministry of Interior was quick to accuse them of hurling stones at the police.

26 Nov 2013 Egypt Mariam Kirollos. All rights reserved.

The way security officials handled the situation couldn’t have been more indicative of how the police state is alive and well. No safe exit from the demonstration was provided for the protestors, nor were they asked to leave prior to the police dispersal, as stipulated in the protest law. Instead, protesters were water cannoned and seconds later, a number of policemen, some with batons, and some of whom were masked or in plainclothes – in violation of the new law – charged at the protesters and forcefully detained those they could get their hands on. Not only were the #NoMilTrials protesters arrested, but both women and men were sexually assaulted, beaten, stripped and dragged along the ground during these arrests. For pictures, click here.

They were then hurled into a police truck, which apparently drove around central Cairo, and eventually arrived at New Cairo First Police Station. People were able to keep track of them as some had managed to keep their mobile phones and tweeted their whereabouts. Lawyers were not permitted to enter the police station. People had to bring clothes for the detainees, as many of them had had their clothes ripped off.

A number of those arrested are activists who have been at the heart of the uprising since 2011, some of whom won international awards for their work in human rights. According to the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression a total of 79 people were detained.

While this was taking place, the Minister of Interior notified the 50-member constitutional committee that the detainees would be released straight away. They also claimed that no women had been detained - but later released a statement saying they had detained female activists, but had returned them to their homes. In fact, a number of the arrested women were later dumped on the Cairo-Upper Egypt desert road, after being assaulted again.

As of today, 24 protesters remain in detention. On November 27 a prosecutor ordered the arrest of two leading activists, Alaa Abdel Fattah and Ahmed Maher. Alaa has announced that he will hand himself over to the authorities on November 30 and released this statement. Ahmed tweeted “The human rights situation in Egypt has become worse than in the Mubarak era, now they arrest anyone trying to think about criticizing the government.”

However, six of the female activists released (dumped in the desert) went on November 27 to the district attorney’s office to turn themselves in, claiming responsibility for calling the protests. They also filed an official complaint against the Ministry of Interior for kidnapping, assaulting them and leaving them in the desert, and demanded the release of those still in detention. “Investigations” are under way.

Many justify the protest law by arguing that authorities in other countries have to be notified prior to demonstrations. But an important point of distinction is that authorities do not then sexually assault or murder detainees, or prevent their access to legal aid, let alone dump them in the desert. The Maspero massacre, for example, had started as an “authorized” peaceful protest, which rather undermines the argument that the use of force on November 26 was justified because it was not an “authorized” protest.

Instead of focusing on the actual crimes being committed across the country – the church drive-by shootings, for example – those in power have decided to focus on suffocating any sign of revolutionary forces. The only problem is that this battle will never end until justice is served. Peaceful protesters holding up signs and chanting are not a threat to national security. The authorities and security officials are a threat to people’s security.

Update

Latest on Alaa Abdel Fattah: 

Gigi IbrahimDespite the fact that Alaa Abd El Fattah announced that he will turn himself in on Sat as the one responsible for planning the #nomiltrials on 26 Nov, the police just broke into his home, beat his wife, stole their laptops and mobile phones, and arrested him.. we don't know where they will take him...fuck this police!!! 

This is a tweet from his wife, Manal, at 10:06 PM - 28 Nov 13

@manalIf police already beaten me in our house, what are they going to do to @alaa . I fear for his safety.

Omar Robert Hamilton @ORHamilton
We don't know where @Alaa has been taken. Lawyers & activists going round the police stations. But suspect he may be kept hidden until Sat.
10:31 PM - 28 Nov 13 

About the author

Rana Magdy is Associate Editor for Arab Awakening. She completed her MA at King's College, London, and her research was on sexualized violence in demonstrations in Egypt.

 


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