The Sinai arrests

Josh Stacher -- an academic expert on Egypt and Syria who will soon start contributing to this site -- has sent me this CSM story by Dan Murphy that wraps up some recent events that have to do with Egypt-Israel relations and the crackdown on Egyptians living in Sinai since the Taba bombings (I had briefly mentioned this in early November.) This, I think, has been under-reported in the Western press. Here's what HRW's Joe Stork told Dan:

In Egypt's case, the new economic deal comes even as the country is alleged to be engaged in one of its most wide-ranging crackdowns against its own citizens in years. Foreign and local human rights organizations claim that as many as 3,000 Egyptians have been detained near the city of Al-Arish on the Sinai peninsula over the past six weeks in a crackdown connected to a terrorist attack in the resort of Taba in October. Some of the attackers were from Al-Arish.


Amnesty International alleges that some of those arrested have been tortured, and that most have been held without charges or access to lawyers. Many of those arrested have since been released, but human rights organizations estimate that hundreds remain in detention.


"I was out there for two days and I managed to talk to about 20 people some of whom were tortured. I find their stories very credible,'' says Joe Stork, Washington Director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch. He says two of those he spoke with detailed torture by electric shock and being tied up and hung from door-frames.


"The torture is very consistent with Egyptian state security's modus operandi... You don't just bring in suspects, you terrorize the population and say any more funny business and this will keep happening,'' says Mr. Stork.


Egyptian officials have told local media that the allegations have been exaggerated, with one Interior Ministry official telling the government-owned Al-Ahram weekly that no more than 800 people have been arrested. The US Embassy in Cairo declined to comment on the allegations.


Yesterday, at the anti-Mubarak demo, there were also a few activists from the "popular committee" formed in support of the torture victims in China, who also has several international members. One of the main Egyptian activists, a man called Ashraf, told me about that over 6000 people have been arrested. He explained that although the police or state security had initially aimed at arresting 950 people, a lot of their relatives were also arrested -- what he described as "taking the families hostage." He also said that lawyers and human rights activists have been denied access.

Another thing he mentioned is that the government was destroying houses of these families -- a policy that reminded him of Israeli home demolitions in Palestine. He also mentioned something rather weird about elite troops with laser-sighting equipped rifles doing raids on villages and Bedouin camps. I believe a report is being prepared by local and/or international human rights group on what's happening, which is probably the biggest crackdown on the general population since the skirmishes with the Gamaa Islamiya in Upper Egypt in the 1980s.
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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.