Police brutality (part 1)

This week as part of our In Translation series -- as usually assisted by the excellent folks at Industry Arabic -- we have an op-ed by Salafi spokesman Nader Bakkar in the pages of the privately-owned, secular El Shorouk newspaper, condemning police brutality against female pro-Morsi demonstrators (22 women between 15 and 25 were arrested while protesting in Alexandria. You can see a short video -- in which a police officer is trying to kick the women, and they are yelling "dogs!" -- here). I am slightly surprised that El Shorouk has opened its pages to Bakkar to criticize the police, and that Islamists would focus their indignation on the mistreatment of female protesters when hundreds of people have been killed during demonstrations since the summer (unless the explanation is that the clearing of Rabaa is still off-limits to editorialists). And just as Bakkar asks: Why don’t secularists care about the treatment of Islamist protesters? Others will ask: Why haven’t Islamists spoken out about state brutality – against Copts, young revolutionaries, etc. -- during so many of the demonstrations since 2011? He mentions Magliz El Wuzara -- or the infamous case of the girl in the blue bra -- but the Islamist silence on that violence (which they feared would derail their imminent parliamentary victories) was shameful. 

Young Women of Alexandria
Nader Bakkar
I believe that everyone – regardless of their political affiliation – who has held onto a shred of their humanity was dumbfounded by the arrest of 21 young women in Alexandria, the most recent insult we have witnessed. And not just dumbfounded but horrified that these Zahrawat were not charged with participating in anti-authority demonstrations or even violating the Protest Law, in its current, distorted incarnation – all they were charged with was protesting. 
Although the current security situation is indeed volatile, even if it deteriorates to a level far worse than it is now, the situation would still not justify treating young Egyptian women with such moral depravity and inhumanity. Those of weak faith: if you wanted to arrest one of these women for an infraction or on suspicion, you could have used female policemen to do so; you could ensure they preserved the female detainees’ dignity. Moreover, your religion requires you to act honorably, and governed by a sense of humanity. Unless you have no regard for religion, honor, or humanity? Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. There are universal laws that are stricter in application than your personal sadistic rules – among them: “Act as you wish; for as you judge, so will you be judged.”
Has the police apparatus forgotten that the countless photographs and videos of their human rights violations and systematic torture that came out over the last ten years of the Mubarak regime -- culminating in the Khaled Said and Sayed Belal incidents -- were the main cause behind the people's mounting outrage against them? The outrage that reached its peak on January 28, 2011 and spilled over to both those who deserved it and those who did not – just because they belonged to the police force?  
The humiliation, the human rights violations, the torture – they repeat themselves again and again on the news. Yet these are not the result of June 30th – they date back earlier than this. Even so, individual violations have increased drastically, calling attention once again to the inherent shortcomings in the Egyptian police’s doctrine for dealing with citizens. 
This doctrine should be placed under review as quickly as possible. Educational experts have previously worked with the security apparatus, and they are not lacking in field experience. These experts have put forth dozens of studies to improve the security system’s performance and the way they deal with civilians. They strengthen our belief that it is possible to uphold both security and human dignity at the same time.
Yet we cannot blame only one unjust party, and turn a blind eye to all the others. Thus the question of blame should be posed to the human rights activists and their organizations: Is the honor of the young women of Alexandria of less interest and importance than the honor of the young woman from the Cabinet protests? Or does their political affiliation prevent people from feeling compassion for them?



Ursula Lindsey

Ursula Lindsey is the managing editor of the Arabist blog. She writes about culture, education and politics in the Arab world. She lived in Cairo from 2002 to 2013 and got her start at the ground-breaking independent magazine Cairo Times. She was the culture editor of Cairo magazine in 2005-2006 and served as special projects editor at the independent news site Mada Masr in 2013-2014. She is the Chronicle of Higher Education's Middle East correspondent. She contributes to the BBC-PRI radio program The World, and has written for Newsweek, The New York Times, The New Yorker online, Bookforum and the blog of the London Review of Books.