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02.10.11

I Saw Torture in an Egyptian Prison

Kareem Amer, a famed blogger among Egypt’s protesters, spent nearly a week in a prison for breaking curfew. Hours after his release, he tells Ahed Al Hendi about the brutality he witnessed there.

UPDATE: One day after vowing to serve until September, Hosni Mubarak resigned the Egyptian presidency on Friday. His decision was announced by Vice President Omar Suleiman. Protesters greeted the news with noisy celebration, cheering and waving flags in Cairo’s Tahrir square. Earlier in the day, Mubarak fled Cairo.

Kareem Amer, a famed blogger among Egypt's protesters, spent nearly a week in a prison for breaking curfew. Hours after his release, he tells Ahed Al Hendi about the brutality he witnessed there. Plus, full coverage of the Egypt protests.

Famed Egyptian blogger Kareem Amer and his friend, filmmaker Samir Eshra, are now free after nearly a week in prison. In a phone call with CyberDissidents.org hours after they were released, Amer described the events surrounding his capture and confinement.

On February 7, a group of thugs attempted to confiscate his friend's videotapes after they left Tahrir Square. The thugs handed the blogger and filmmaker over to military police for having violated the curfew. Amer spent one day in a local prison and was later shipped to an army jail in what he described as "the middle of the desert."

Photos: Egypt Protests

I asked Kareem if the prison was similar to Borj Al Arab, the jail where he spent the last four years for having criticized the Egyptian dictator and "insulted" Islam. "No way," he said. "This prison was like a trash-can. The cell was tiny and the bathroom was disgusting. They did not allow us to shower even once since we were arrested. People were treated harshly and severely tortured on a daily basis. They were tortured in front of our eyes--water-boarded, beaten with sticks, and electrocuted."

I could not help but think back to my time in a Syrian prison. In December 2006, I was arrested in an Internet cafe by undercover security and spent more than a month in jail for dissident activities. I had long thought that Syrian prisons were worse than Egyptian prison, but after hearing Amer describe his experience, I was no longer sure.

How could the Egyptian army commit such violations given that they claim to be neutral or even on the side of the people? "What neutrality?" Amer responded angrily. "They are on the side of the regime. They are humiliating the people. You would not have believed what we saw in this short period in prison."

How could the Egyptian army commit such violations given that they claim to be neutral or even on the side of the people? “What neutrality?” Amer responded angrily. “They are on the side of the regime. They are humiliating the people.”

On Friday, all the prisoners Kareem was with were suddenly and unexpectedly freed. "Thousands of prisoners were released, even those who had killed soldiers," Amer said. "They abandoned us in the middle of the night on a desert highway that connected Suez City with Cairo. We were stopped by a military tank that almost opened fire on us. But when they found out we had been in a military prison, they let us go. A truck was stopped and it took us to Cairo."

Kareem and Samir's experience is a microcosm of the brutality of the Egyptian regime. Thousands are being held in prison and torture is commonplace. Tens of journalists have been arrested by army intelligence and they are apparently targeting those who work with foreign and American media outlets.

While the army has gone to great lengths to protect the headquarters of state security, they failed to protect the people of Egypt as they were beaten and killed in the streets by thugs on horseback and camelback. The army saw fit to protect the dreaded former interior minister, Habib Al Adly, from protesters, and now the army prevents people from leaving Tahrir Square and marching toward the presidential palace.

The current president, vice president, and prime minister are all generals. How many more people must die and how many more Kareem Amers must be jailed for the world to realize the true nature of this Egyptian military dictatorship?

Ahed Alhendi is the Arabic programs coordinator at CyberDissidents.org.  Kareem Amer is a member of CyberDissidents.org's blogger board. You can reach Ahed at  ahed@cyberdissidents.org.