US considering engaging Muslim Brothers?

The rabidly Zionist, MEMRI outlet, New York Sun has an interesting piece by Eli Lake, a reporter formerly based in Cairo who knows the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, about how the State Dept. and other US agencies are considering engaging with the MB. Robert Leiken, who recently wrote a Foreign Affairs piece advocating engagement (see posts on that here and here), participated in the findings.
Today the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research will host a meeting with other representatives of the intelligence community to discuss opening more formal channels to the brothers. Earlier this year, the National Intelligence Council received a paper it had commissioned on the history of the Muslim Brotherhood by a scholar at the Nixon Center, Robert Leiken, who is invited to the State Department meeting today to present the case for engagement. On April 7, congressional leaders such as Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the Democratic whip, attended a reception where some representatives of the brothers were present. The reception was hosted at the residence in Cairo of the American ambassador to Egypt, Francis Ricciardone, a decision that indicates a change in policy. The National Security Council and State Department already meet indirectly with the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood through discussions with a new Syrian opposition group created in 2006 known as the National Salvation Front. Meanwhile, Iraq's vice president, Tariq al-Hashemi, is a leader of Iraq's chapter of the Muslim Brotherhood. His party, known as the Iraqi Islamic Party, has played a role in the Iraqi government since it was invited to join the Iraqi Governing Council in 2003. These developments, in light of Hamas's control of Gaza, suggest that President Bush — who has been careful to distinguish the war on terror from a war on Islam — has done more than any of his predecessors to accept the movement fighting for the merger of mosque and state in the Middle East.
I personally think Leiken has a tendency to put the various Muslim Brotherhoods in the same basket. Whatever the links between them, they are clearly separate entities with local leaderships and warrant different approaches from the US. For instance, from a practical standpoint the US is forced to deal with the MB in Iraq, and from a political one engaging the Syrian MB makes sense if one is pursuing a policy of regime change in Damascus, particularly as exile Syrian groups have relationships with the Syrian MB. In Egypt, the situation is quite different: engagement with the MB has been extremely cautious, restricted to parliamentarians and is subject to close scrutiny from a regime that is close to Washington. In Palestine, engagement with Hamas is left to countries like Egypt since dealing with Hamas directly would contravene every ideological tenet the Bush administration holds dear, and presumably anger their neocon friends. However, there are signs that the Egyptian MB can be useful: last week, reports emerged that Fatah's strongman in Gaza and US-Israeli tool Muhammad Dahlan (who is blamed even by his Egyptian intelligence handlers for starting the recent violence in Gaza) had sent out an emissary to MB Supreme Guide Muhammad Akef, asking him to reach out to Hamas. The Egyptian intelligence services have used Akef's good offices with Hamas for a while now, it seems, and despite the ongoing crackdown against the MB domestically, the regime realizes they can be useful (and perhaps the MB hopes to win some lenience in return), even if the MB's official support for the Hamas government clashes with Egypt's decision to only recognize the Fatah-backked Fayyad government in the West Bank (and Egypt's help in making sure Hamas leaders cannot leave Gaza and other forms of coordination of the blockade with the Israelis, even if some Israelis are unhappy.) It's also worthwhile noting that Hamas is making an attempt to get the US to engage directly with them -- note that Ismail Haniyeh's advisor Ahmed Youssef had op-eds in both the NYT and WaPo yesterday advocating engagement and defending Hamas' democratic credentials. Hamas has also been making noise about negotiating the release of of BBC journalist Alan Johnston (what were they waiting for, anyway?) In the context of this debate about engaging the various Muslim Brotherhoods, it's worth highlighting that Human Rights Watch has put up interviews of Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood detainees who were imprisoned and tortured by the Egyptian security services. It's a novel and unusual attempt by an establishment institution to put a human face on the MB, which tends not to make front-page news when its members are (routinely) arrested and mistreated. HRW is not only defending their human rights, but also the MB's freedom of association and expression, which is bound to make many in Cairo (and not just in government) unhappy. The full list of interviews is on the page linked above, but here's a YouTube version of the interview with Mahmoud Izzat, the Secretary-General of the MB, recalling the brutal 1965 wave of arrests, which was widely credited for radicalizing a part of the MB and creating the spinoff groups that would become Islamic Jihad, and ultimately join al-Qaeda.
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State Department: Human trafficking report

Most of the Gulf countries have made it onto the Tier 3 list (those countries with the worst record in human trafficking, according to the report) of the State Department's Trafficking in Persons Report 2007: Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. UAE is on the Tier 2 watch list. So is Egypt. From the report:
Egypt is a transit country for women trafficked from Uzbekistan, Moldova, Ukraine, Russia, and other Eastern European countries to Israel for the purpose of sexual exploitation, and may be a source for children trafficked internally for commercial sexual exploitation and domestic servitude. Reports indicate that some of Cairo’s estimated 1 million street children — both girls and boys — are exploited in prostitution.
I'm surprised at this large number of street children in Cairo. Does anyone have other sources on this?
In addition, wealthy men from the Gulf reportedly travel to Egypt to purchase “temporary marriages� with Egyptian women, including in some cases girls who are under age 18, often apparently as a front for commercial sexual exploitation facilitated by the females’ parents and marriage brokers.
What I also heard is that Cairo's chronically underfunded state-run orphanages are using this to make some extra money (or their employees). The full report can be downloaded here.
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CoE report documents rendition program

More fine reporting by Stephen Grey, who literally wrote the book on rendition, about the upcoming Council of Europe findings on the CIA flights in Europe:
Although suspicions about the secret CIA prisons have existed for more than a year, the council's report, seen by the Guardian, appears to offer the first concrete evidence. It also details the prisons' operations and the identities of some of the prisoners. The council has also established that within weeks of the 9/11 attacks, Nato signed an agreement with the US that allowed civilian jets used by the CIA during its so-called extraordinary rendition programme to move across member states' airspace. Its report states: "We have sufficient grounds to declare that the highest state authorities were aware of the CIA's illegal activities on their territories." The council's investigators believe that agreement may have been illegal. . . . The 19-month inquiry by the council, which promotes human rights across Europe, was headed by Dick Marty, a Swiss senator and former state prosecutor. He said: "What was previously just a set of allegations is now proven: large numbers of people have been abducted from various locations across the world and transferred to countries where they have been persecuted and where it is known that torture is common practice." His report says there is "now enough evidence to state that secret detention facilities run by the CIA [existed] in Europe from 2003 to 2005, in particular in Poland and Romania".
Yet another reason I think the EU should have never expanded to include Eastern European countries. Update: Also see HRW's backgrounder on U.S. Responsibility for Enforced Disappearances in the “War on Terror”.
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'125 Release Orders' and Still Detained

When opposition politicians and rights groups complained that amendments to Egypt's constitution would enshrine the Emergency Law in the Constitution by giving police free rein to arrest, search, and spy on citizens without judicial warrants, some government officials responded with the line, "You just need to trust us. These powers are only for legitimate investigations into terrorism cases" (paraphrasing here). It was a line the Bush administration had previously used to respond to criticisms of the PATRIOT Act.

Last week, Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated MP Farid Ismail petitioned Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif and Interior Minister Habib al-Adli regarding a case that neatly illustrates why the "trust us" line doesn't work. Security forces arrested five kids, some of them as young as 15, from the al-Sharqiyya governorate in the Nile Delta on suspicion of belonging to Islamic Jihad following the 1997 terrorist attacks in Luxor. In the 10 years since, Ismail said, magistrates have ordered their release 125 times each, saying there was no evidence to keep them detained. No matter. A decade later, they are still in prison.

Now, I'm in favor of locking up people who want to blow up innocent people. And I can understand that in the wake of a big terrorist attack, you might want to err on the side of caution. But you've got to do it in a way that ensures that you get the right people, and that lets innocent people caught up in the sweep get back to their lives, ideally with compensation (though how do you compensate someone who's spent a week with electrodes on his tongue, nipples, and genitals? Mawlish doesn't quite cover it). This is why the legal protections are so important. I have no idea if these five are innocent, but 125 release orders (times five is what? 625) from magistrates who have seen all the evidence strongly suggests that they are.

If the good people working for Egypt's stability and security won't respect what slender legal protections exist today, how are we supposed to "trust them" when those legal protections are gone?

Right. Apologies for the rant, but this is a particularly outrageous case.
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Syrian Cyber-Dissident Arrested

Via Reporters sans frontières:
(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders has called for the immediate release of arrested human rights activist Ibrahim Zoro, who regularly posts material on foreign-based opposition websites. It noted that two other people were in prison in Syria for posting similar material. It said the state security service, whose agents arrested Zoro on 5 April 2007 in Damascus, were "as always, acting quite illegally" and his family had not been told why he was picked up or where he was being held. "It is more like a kidnapping than an arrest," the worldwide press freedom organisation said. Zoro, who belongs to Syria's Kurdish minority, was helping to organise a seminar called "The Philosophy of Lies." He has posted many articles in Arabic on websites such as the blog Tharway and Mengos. Zoro, 47, has already spent seven years in prison, from 1987 to 1994, for belonging to the Syrian Communist Party. He is a member of the Committee for the Defence of Democracy, Freedom and Human Rights in Syria. Journalist Muhened Abdulrahman and writer Habib Saleh are also in prison in Syria for posting material online.
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After sorting out some technical problems (and coping with traffic much higher then expected), is now on air! The internet youth radio aims to promote tolerance in Egyptian society, by discussing topics such as human rights, women issues, education and others. Good luck with that, of course, but at the very minimum the site produces badly needed local content to get more Egyptians online. is run by the Egyptian NGO Al Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies, founded by friend Ahmed Samih. Listen in!
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Mubarak wants military appeals court

The plot thickens:
Egypt's president wants military appeals court
Wed 28 Mar 2007, 12:41 GMT

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has proposed a law to set up an appeals court for suspects tried before military tribunals, known for their tough and swift verdicts, a cabinet statement said on Wednesday.

Mubarak has sent the draft bill to both houses of parliament, dominated by his ruling National Democratic Party. Under the present law, only the president can reverse verdicts of a military court.

"This will provide more guarantees for those transferred to the military judiciary," the statement said. It did not say how judges will be selected for the new court.
Could this be a response to the criticisms about Article 179? If so, it's a pretty limited one.
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Final Schedule: 5th Cairo Anti-War Conference and 3rd Cairo Social Forum جدول الندوات واللقاءات بمؤتمر القاهرة الخامس والمنتدى الإجتماعي الثالث

The final schedule for the Conference and Forum meetings is now available in Arabic and English. Click on the poster below to download it... Time table of the Cairo Conference I'll be speaking in two meetings. The first is on the fight against police torture in Egypt... Sorry, some last-minute rearrangements... I won't be speaking at the anti-torture forum. Blogojournalist and friend Abdel Moneim will be kindly replacing me. Cairo 3rd Social Forum Raise your Voices against Torture Activists against Torture Friday 30th of March 2007 3.30 – 6.00 pm Press Syndicate – 3rd floor Slide show: Victims and Tormentors Interventions by activists against torture Testimonies by survivors and their families Join us with testimonies and recommendations for an international movement against torture منتدى مناهضة التعذيب And the other one on "Citizen Journalism," scheduled Saturday, 6pm, at the Press Sydicate 4th floor, Room 5.. I'll be speaking on the Egyptian blogosphere, part of the following forum: "Young Journalists: State Oppression and Violation of Economic Rights, Saturday from 3.30-5.30 pm, The Press Syndicate's 4th floor, Room 4 Blogs and political change in Egypt The conference should be a golden opportunity for us ya shabab to exchange experiences with international and local activists. I hope to see as many of you there. Click on the cartoon below to download the invitation and a background on the conference in Arabic, English, and French... Invitation to the 5th Cairo Conference & 3rd Cairo Social Forum
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HRW on arrests of anti-referendum protesters

Full thing after the jump. Egypt: Don’t Enshrine Emergency Rule in Constitution Protesters, Journalists Assaulted on Eve of Referendum (Cairo, March 26, 2007) – Proposed constitutional amendments approved by the Egyptian parliament on March 21 effectively remove basic protections against violations of Egyptians’ rights to privacy, individual freedom, security of person and home and due process, Human Rights Watch said today. Parliament overwhelmingly approved amendments to 34 articles of the constitution on Tuesday in a vote that closely followed party lines. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak scheduled a referendum on the amendments for today, weeks ahead of the expected date. Opposition parties and the Muslim Brotherhood said they would boycott the referendum. Last night, security forces arrested at least 13 activists on their way to a protest against the proposed amendments. Eyewitnesses and victims told Human Rights Watch that plainclothes officers supported by riot police surrounded two groups of activists and bloggers in downtown Cairo at around 7 p.m. The plainclothes officers kicked and punched activists, assaulted a number of female protesters, and confiscated memory cards from three foreign photojournalists’ digital cameras. Two of the 13 were subsequently released, but the authorities have not provided any information on where the remaining activists are being detained. A spokesman for the opposition al-Ghad (Tomorrow) Party today told Human Rights Watch that security forces surrounded their offices in Cairo, Alexandria, Kafr al-Shaikh, Buhaira and Port Said last night, and that authorities had detained six Ghad Party members. Activists were protesting proposed changes to article 179 of the constitution that would have the effect of removing constitutional safeguards requiring the government to obtain judicial warrants before searching a citizen’s home, correspondence, telephone calls, and other communications, when the government deems activity being investigated is terrorist-related. In such cases the president would also be allowed to send cases to special “exceptional” courts or military tribunals, whose decisions may not be appealed, instead of the regular courts, thereby jeopardizing individuals’ fair trial rights. The amendments would also mean security forces would be authorized to exercise powers of arrest that could lead to arbitrary, and potentially indefinite, detentions. “No referendum can legitimize these constitutional amendments, or bring them in compliance with Egypt’s international obligations,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The right of Egyptians to be protected from arbitrary searches and seizures and the right to appeal judgments are basic human rights that the government can’t legislate away.” While Egypt has a right and a responsibility to protect its citizens from violence and to prevent terrorist attacks, the Egyptian government has a decades-long record of abusing human rights in the name of combating terrorism, and of referring politically sensitive trials to exceptional courts. Human Rights Watch said the amendments to article 179 were particularly troubling in light of the overly broad definitions of terrorism in Egyptian law. For example, article 86(bis) of the Penal Code, part of antiterrorism legislation adopted in 1992, makes it an offence for any person to belong to, or possess and distribute publications of any group that calls for suspension of the constitution or laws or is considered to be “impairing the national unity or social peace.” Egypt’s Emergency Law, in place without interruption since 1981, already suspends important constitutional protections of fundamental rights, but President Mubarak has repeatedly pledged to abolish the Emergency Law and to replace certain provisions with antiterrorism legislation. The proposed amendments to article 179 would allow this antiterrorism legislation to bypass constitutional guarantees of the rights to privacy and to due process. “Shifting the exceptional powers that the Emergency Law grants the Executive into the constitution won’t make them more legitimate under international law,” said Whitson. “The proposed amendments to article 179 of Egypt’s constitution would eviscerate President Mubarak’s promises to repeal the Emergency Law.” Several provisions of the constitution guarantee the right to freedom from arbitrary search and seizure and the privacy of the home and private communications. Article 41 of the constitution affirms: Individual freedom is a natural right not subject to violation except in cases of flagrante delicto. No person may be arrested, inspected, detained or have his freedom restricted in any way or be prevented from free movement except by an order necessitated by investigations and the preservation of public security. This order shall be given by the competent judge or the Public Prosecution in accordance with the provisions of the law. Article 44 of the Egyptian constitution states that, “homes shall have their sanctity and they may not be entered or inspected except by a causal judicial warrant as prescribed by the law.” Article 45 states: The law shall protect the inviolability of the private life of citizens. Correspondence, wires, telephone calls and other means of communication shall have their own sanctity and their secrecy shall be guaranteed. They may not be confiscated or monitored except by a causal judicial warrant and for a definite period and according to the provisions of the law. Proposed amendments to article 179 of the constitution would effectively waive these guarantees in cases the government designates as terrorism-related, and could grant security forces unfettered authority to detain persons, search homes and monitor communications without a judicial warrant. They would further allow the president to refer any suspect to any court of his choosing, including exceptional or military courts. As a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Egypt ratified in 1982, Egypt is obligated to ensure that everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. Article 9 states that, “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention. No one shall be deprived of his liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedure as are established by law.” As a party to the ICCPR, Egypt also has a legal obligation to ensure that, “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence” (article 17). The changes proposed by the amendments to article 179 of the Egyptian constitution violate both these obligations. “Egyptian law enforcement officials have all the tools they need to combat the threat of terrorism without altering the constitution to undermine Egyptians’ basic rights to protection of their home, privacy, liberty, security and a fair trial,” Whitson said. “President Mubarak should propose new amendments that explicitly safeguard Egyptians’ fundamental rights.” According to lawyers from the Hisham Mubarak Center, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, and the Nadim Center for Victims of Violence, among those detained on March 25 in Cairo were: 1. Omar al-Hadi (blogger) 2. Muhammad Gamal (blogger) 3. Ahmad Drubi (environmental consultant) 4. Malik Mustafa (released hours later) 5. Karim al-Sha`ir (blogger) 6. Omar Mustafa (blogger) 7. Muhammad `Abd al-Qadir (communications employee) 8. Midhat Shakir (released hours later) 9. Adham al-Safati (film director) 10. Muhammad Rashid 11. Khalid Mustafa 12. Ahmad Samir (student) 13. Mohsin Hashim (political activist) 14. Jano Charbel (Lebanese journalist, briefly detained)
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Monday: NYC Anti-Mubarak Protest

Egyptian activists in New York City are organizing a demonstration against Mubarak's dictatorial constitutional amendments, Monday 26 March, in front of the Egyptian Consulate, from 12:30pm to 1:30pm. NYC to demonstrate against Mubarak The Egyptian Consulate in NYC is located at 1110 Second Avenue, New York, NY 10022. For more information, contact Shehab Fakhry: shehabfakhry [at] yahoo [dot] com, 917-392-9408
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Online Censorship Suit

Hossam has linked to Judge Abd al-Fattah's lawsuit here. It's riddled with factual errors. More on that later. It's still not clear if this is going anywhere, but as commenters on Issandr's original post on the topic noted, we have early warning in this case, and we should take advantage of it. A list of the URLs the judge is asking the government to censor follows. Since a court has yet to rule on whether these are libelous, archiving them in Egypt may be risky. So people outside of Egypt who might be interested in hosting mirrors, here are the urls. They include the sites of some of the most prominent human rights organizations in Egypt: The Web site of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (hrinfo) The page of the Hisham Mubarak Center for Legal Aid, hosted on hrinfo's site Web site of the Nur Center The Web site of the Egyptian Inititative for Personal Rights A typo leads to a 404 page, but it's named in the suit. The correct URL for the Hisham Mubarak Center is named above. The Urban Center [lit. "Observatory"] for Human Rights The Egyptian Center for Justice and Law The page for the Nadim Center for Victims of Violence, hosted on hrinfo The Egyptian Association Against Torture A page from a blog concerned with human rights issues From Kifaya's Web site Blog that has campaigned for democracy, human rights, and respect for the environment Purportedly the Web site of the Ghad Party's newspaper. Incidentally, this URL was inaccessible from Egypt March 14 using the ISP LINKdotNET. The Egyptian Renaissance site The Good News company's site, named as the owner of The Egyptian Renaissance, above. Web site of the Nur Center Shmasan News Web site of the Iraqi News Agency Blog post Blog post Blog post The Egypt chapter of HRinfo's 2004 report on Internet censorship in the Middle East HRinfo report on April-May 2006 crackdown HRinfo report on Bahrain, Tunisia, and Egypt Blog Blog post
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Send Spiders

Did a little digging into Judge Abd al-Fattah Murad's lawsuit to get the government to censor 21 Web sites and blogs:
  1. Abd al-Fattah Murad will likely not be the judge in Abd al-Karim Sulaiman's appeal. This would too nice a present to the defense team, who are engaged in a separate legal dispute with the judge and so could clearly not get a fair trial from him. If Judge Abd al-Fattah is on the stand next session, we can all start believing the rumors that the government never wanted to imprison Kareem in the first place. Or we should all be very scared because the government will have dropped its last shred of shame.
  2. The only source for the suit's existence remains Egypt's finest, Rose al-Yusef. Lawyers have had no communication from the courts. A scanned copy of the Rose al-Yusef article is here. It's possible the lawsuit won't progress, and that this article (in a paper whose meager readership consists mostly of those who have a professional interest in trying to guess what Security is thinking) is another shot over the bow. [Update: AFP cites "a judicial source" and "sources" to confirm the story]
  3. His honor reportedly has very good wasta in the Interior Ministry—but less so in the Judge's Club. It's unclear whether he has the clout to get the government to change its current policy of not censoring the Internet.
Let's hope this one dies on the vine. In the meantime, reason enough to be vigilant and for techies abroad to start archiving sites. Release the spiders. And if anyone from the ICT or information ministries is reading, please read Nart Villeneuve's excellent discussion of the pitfalls of Internet censorship for governments. To these I would add economic ill effects. Egypt's perception as a friendly country for ICT investment, a perception the government has spent millions on fostering, rests in no small part on its policy with regard to online censorship, which is free... and costs nothing. All the Smart Villages, slick IT projects at the Alexandria Library, and UN-prize-winning Web sites will seem like so much expensive window dressing if the government starts censoring blogs, newspaper Web sites, and the Web sites of human rights organizations. Telecom Egypt is looking for a partner to modernize the country's Internet backbone, at a cost of US$1 billion. And let's face it, Egypt isn't China. China will become the largest broadband market in 2007, with 79 million broadband users. When Egypt launched a program to expand broadband access in 2004, it set itself an initial goal of 50,000 users. The difference in GDP is about US$2.13 trillion. Bad publicity ought to seem like more of a liability here. For the sake of the greater good, Judge Abd al-Fattah, and for the sake of the rights to impart and receive information, please drop this lawsuit. Your good reputation will be better served if you're known as the man who forgave an insult than if you're known as the man who censored the Internet. The same president whose honor you're so anxious to defend has himself spoken about the importance of ICT in "supporting national efforts toward more freedom, democracy, and respect of human rights." So, your honor, for the sake of the president and patriotism, for the sake of the next generation of honest, hardworking Egyptians from Aswan to Alexandria, and for the sake of your good reputation, please drop this lawsuit.
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the Ides of March

000019_vl.jpg Coming up on the anniversary of the liveliest expression of popular dissatisfaction with the Mubarak regime in recent memory--the March 2003 demos--it seems like the moment to wheel out some old photos. I've scanned a (rathered battered) roll of negatives, and strung them together with some captions here. I think the moral of the story is this: if there's a dozen guys dressed up like little Darth Vaders chasing you, run like hell.
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It could happen to anyone we know

This al-Masri al-Youm report highlighted by Hossam is truly terrifying:
Two police corporals are currently under investigation for attempting to rape a woman in Tahrir Square’s underground metro (Sadat Station) on Wednesday, Al-Masry Al-Youm reports. The woman approached a police corporal inside the underground station, asking him for directions to the nearest exit to KFC at 1:30pm. To her surprise, he pointed at the security office in the station, and told her that was her destination, before grabbing her to the office and attempting to rape her with the help of another police corporal. The woman managed to escape, in complete trauma with torn clothes.
This could happen to your sister or mother.
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