Amnesty Reports: Egyptians Still Terrorized by Police, Security Forces
Police and security forces still use excessive, unnecessary, and often deadly force against Egyptian citizens. Vivian Salama on the findings of two new reports from Amnesty International.
Last November, deadly clashes between Egyptian security forces and enraged protesters cycloned through sections of Cairo in what, to many, appeared to be a revolution unraveling at the seams. Dozens of demonstrators—mainly Coptic Christians—had been killed the previous month in a battle with police outside Egypt’s state television headquarters, and the public had grown sick of unfulfilled promises for police reforms.
Tarek Moussa, 33, was seriously injured in the protests after live bullets pierced his stomach, liver, and diaphragm—including one that tore through someone else’s body before hitting his, since security forces fired at close range. “Many people were hit in the head in front of me,” he said in testimony to Amnesty International. “Why did they do this to me? I did not hurt my country. I will go back again to Tahrir [Square] to get my rights, but also the rights of others.”
In two new reports released Tuesday, Amnesty International called on Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi and the new government to fulfill one of the primary demands of the revolution by enacting a complete overhaul of the police and security forces, which continue to humiliate and terrorize the public through the use of excessive, unnecessary, and often deadly force. Since October 2011, 121 protesters have been killed, and almost 3,500 injured, Amnesty said.
“The different interior ministers that headed the police force since last year’s uprising have repeatedly announced their commitment to reforming the police and respecting human rights, but so far reforms have merely scratched the surface,” Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International, said in a statement. “Instead, they have tried to restore emergency-like legislation in the name of restoring security.”
The reports, the first entitled Brutality Unpunished and Unchecked: Egypt’s Military Kill and Torture Protesters With Impunity; the second, Agents of Repression: Egypt’s Police and the Case for Reform, highlight Egypt’s failure to evolve from Hosni Mubarak–era practices of abuse and assault as a means for law enforcement and intimidation. Police brutality has long been a major source of contention among Egyptians—one that inspired opposition members to organize online following the beating and torture of 28-year-old Khalid Said in 2010, after gruesome images of his disfigured corpse went viral, provoking young activists around the world.
In another testimony, Amnesty tells the story of 23-year-old Karim Damanhuri, who attempted to join protests last November, but when confronted by police, he was dragged, whipped, beaten, sexually assaulted, and urinated on, then shoved in a corner with others who had suffered a similar fate. A young dentist named Ahmed Harara told Amnesty International that doctors discovered 64 pellet bullets in his head, six in his neck, and four in his chest. His eyes were hit by pellets in two separate protests, and he suffered a complete loss of vision.
“Unless the soldiers responsible for killing, maiming, and abusing protesters are put on trial in front of an independent, civilian court, there is no hope that the victims will see justice or that soldiers will fear punishment if they repeat such crimes,” Sahraoui said.
Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forced became the de-facto rulers of the country when Mubarak stepped down in February 2011 following 18 days of popular protests. But the military quickly rose to become public enemy No. 1 as it increasingly clamped down on power and strengthened its chokehold on civil liberties. It dissolved the newly elected, Islamist-dominated parliament in June, making it the country’s sole legislative body.
Days later, Morsi claimed the presidency and vowed to take on the military—and he quickly delivered, forcing Egypt’s top generals into early retirement. However, many speculate that as the country’s first civilian president and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, he will have very little influence over the military. The latest unrest to erupt in Cairo came last month, after hundreds of protesters stormed the American Embassy there following the release of a U.S.-produced film deemed offensive to Islam.
Amnesty International called upon governments that export weapons to the Egyptian military to halt the transfer of small arms, shotguns, tear gas, armored vehicles, and related ammunition that are “routinely misused in the policing of demonstrations.” The organization noted that Egyptian security forces receive the bulk of their weapons from the United States. In one case, a U.S. shipment believed to contain tear gas was delivered on Oct. 13, 2011—four days after soldiers killed 27 protesters in Cairo. Another shipment arrived from the U.S. on Nov. 26, 2011—shortly after a crackdown in Cairo killed 50 people. Egypt receives $1.3 billion in military aid annually from the U.S.
Other military and nonmilitary weapons shipments reportedly have been sent from Cyprus, Germany, India, Italy, Poland, Republic of Korea, Slovakia, Switzerland, and Turkey, Amnesty said.