The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged police
The police and the people: one hand, for now
LUXOR, EGYPT - JULY 19, 2010: Egyptian police road check point, On July 19, 2010 Luxor, Egypt. Source: Shutterstock.

LUXOR, EGYPT - JULY 19, 2010: Egyptian police road check point, On July 19, 2010 Luxor, Egypt. Source: Shutterstock.

One of the main reasons many Egyptians are nostalgic about the Hosni Mubarak era is the absence of security. Or rather the false sense of it.

"The Interior Ministry never provided general security, just political security (i.e. crushing dissent and bullying the Muslim Brothers)," says a former member of Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party, who spoke on condition of anonymity and confessed to never quite understanding what gave the public the wrong impression. It was this sense of security that was overturned by the events following January 25, driven, the former NDP official sniffed, by “emboldened thugs” and the collective realization that one can drive in any direction one pleases on almost every road after the 2011 uprising.

Now, three years after the January 25 outburst of public fury they partly caused – which consumed much of their dignity, stations and vehicles, breached their prisons and relieved them of  their weapons – Egypt’s Interior Ministry is still struggling to get back on its own two feet and restore some of that longed-for political security with excessive force and arbitrary arrests, as always disregarding the risk of galvanizing more opposition. A practice justified by pointing at the recent bomb attacks on police installations.

There is, however, something new about the general attitude towards security forces. After all, they went from having to withdraw from the streets after failing to quell protests against Mubarak in 2011 to receiving shoulder rides and kisses for handing out water to anti-Morsi protesters rather than spraying them with it in 2013. The change in police activity and popularity here – as videos and reports of continued police abuses suggest – is not the fruit of quick and radical police reforms, but rather the result of the popular reconciliation with them and the military in the wake of their overthrow of the unpopular but elected president Mohamed Morsi. This would not have been possible if it weren’t for the incredibly effective “[image] polishing [media] campaign,” according to a grateful police general, who also asked to remain anonymous because he is not authorized to speak to the press.

It was hard trying not to stare at the 15 bullet holes in the wall behind the general’s head, while he was talking about how life has improved for police officers after June 30.

He caught me looking and laughed.

“These things [he looked over his shoulder to wave off the plaster-oozing evidence of attacks on the police station] happen in the best of countries,” he said. What matters is that policemen can, once again, sport their white uniforms everywhere without fear of verbal or physical abuse and they can arrest people without need for reinforcements to overcome the families and neighbors of the arrested, who used to body-block their vans to help a loved one or an acquaintance in cuffs. This is progress, he announced contentedly.

Much of that progress, the general, who is also head of a major explosives department noted happily, is thanks the media’s reframing of the police’s mission as a war on terrorism rather than a war on activism and opposition to the deep-state. This coverage of the shadowy war has substantially increased public sympathy for security forces in the past few months. Having decided from the very beginning that the terrorist attacks were too many to count or investigate, most journalists and TV presenters chose to simply blame the Brothers, even though Ansar Beit al-Maqdis claimed responsibility for them. These anti-MB media rants are always more zealous after attacks like the one on the Mansoura Security Directorate . In fact, had the constitution not been passed yet, they would have probably turned the attack into another Vote Yes To Disappoint Terrorists commercial, complete with blood dripping from the MB’s four-finger Rabaa sign for symbolism.

When asked to comment further on the media’s enthusiasm for this topic, the general  awkwardly admitted that they do exaggerate slightly, but they have good intentions. “It is not to spread panic in society, but respect (for policemen),” he added paternally.

While the uptick in attacks in Sinai seems more plausible given the region’s lawlessness, and drug, weapons and human trafficking trade, the reports coming out of the rest of the country are unreasonably exaggerated -- so much so that most of the police officers I have spoken to laughed when they heard the numbers and one asked if it included the tumultuous First Intermediate period of Ancient Egypt.

The few numbers reported in national and independent newspapers so far are 300 attacks in Sinai alone and a total of 1072 incidents of political violence, according to Democracy Index’s November report (that is, in four months here, more than double the total number of attacks in Iraq in the two years following the US invasion).

It is important to note that Democracy Index also supported the fantastical tales of 30 million protesters marching against Morsi in July and that newspapers used its figures to figuratively pat the state's shoulder, despite the fact that the report says that less than one-tenth of these attacks targeted state institutions.


According to the report, 190 of these acts of “political violence and terrorism” are clashes between protesters and security forces – 101 of which are clashes with plain clothed men dubbed “residents,” which, according to another former NDP MP, is code for baltageya (hired thugs) – which the MOI now uses to disperse protests to save the police force the effort and the damaging footage bound to emerge. Also, because there is the added advantage that no one seems to have qualms about a group of presumed civilians shooting one another, so long as the ones left bleeding are bearded. Sixty-two incidents are classified as protest that were dispersed by said residents; 16 attacks by Brothers on property, journalists and regular citizens; four attacks by citizens on MB property; 64 student clashes in universities and 32 clashes between students, security forces and the so-called residents. This leaves 610 incidents completely unaccounted for.

The real number of terrorist attacks, the head of the explosives department said casually, is around 100. Most probably. They, too, are not really keeping track. “(The count) is relative,” he said, airily.

That one-hundred-something, he added, includes all failed and successful attacks on police officers, soldiers, stations, checkpoints and churches, etc, that happened from July 3 to December nationwide. Yet Giza’s police department, for example, used to get an average of ten to twenty car bomb reports a week and about 200 reports of suspicious objects per month from mid-August to November.

“There is like a one in fifty chance the report is legitimate and it’s an explosive device...But just imagine that: an actual explosive device that can explode and kill people,” he said, as if shocked by the mere prospect of something blowing up in the middle of an allegedly merciless war.

Although driving for two hours with an explosives detection team for nothing is a pain, the general admitted, the police has and will continue to kindly refrain from legally pursuing citizens who make false reports, provided they are related to terrorism, to maintain the newly built bridges with the public. There is no point in arresting a housewife or shopkeeper wary of a dusty car parked in front of their property, when you can have a dog sniff it and save the day. This combined with the fact that the police seem to have taken the advice of national radio talk shows and now do ask nicely for one’s driver’s license in checkpoints has more than redeemed their image in the eyes of many, namely taxi drivers.

Meanwhile in Sinai, little to no news comes out, except for the rare Western report, and the army's daily self-congratulatory "(Insert any number) dangerous takfiri(s) down" reports and obituaries. This intense focus on defused terror threats stands in stark contrast to the reluctance to or disinterest in discussing the casualties and exact details of the “war on terrorism.” However, oddly enough, many are not denying the reported loss of civilian life and property due to the  military’s campaign in Sinai in comparison to the disturbingly sincere denial of the violence the Raba’a el-Adawiya sit-in’s dispersal, which the majority of the police officers I spoke to exhibit. To them, only 43 people died on August 14. And they were all officers, regardless of what the official health ministry’s 627-dead report says.

There are two main approaches to justify the casualties of the military’s campaign in Sinai. The first argues that the Egyptian army is doing what the US army did to Afghanistan in the American war on terror: Following an understandably violent, but ineffective strategy. Supporters of this approach blame the Sinai mess on the hobbling of Egypt’s hated State Security, which they say means there is little intelligence for the military to use to narrow down their targets, and so it has to go in blind. In order to improve the situation in Sinai, the minister, they suggest, should man up and empower National Security – which former interior minister Mansour el-Essawy created to replace State Security – so it can do what its predecessor has always done well: oppress the bearded. The second approach says to shush.

“The army is doing a good job and this is good practice,” proclaimed one of the interior minister’s aides. “They haven’t fought since 1973, this is very good,” he added, with a thumbs up.

Another gain from the June 30 protests and its subsequent polishing campaign, according to a Giza police colonel, was the end of  the “broken record” of complaints about police abuses of human rights, which briefly fooled people into thinking the police needed reform. “All that 'police are the tool of oppression' talk really got old,” he muttered.

The colonel’s reading of a leading cause of the 2011 uprising is unsurprisingly common inside the ministry. So is his ill-concealed contempt for the society that gave the Muslim Brotherhood a chance to rule, having failed or not even bothered to grasp the wisdom behind the ministry’s long history of persecuting it.


CAIRO - SEP 05: Remains of a big local store at Mostafa Nahas st and neighbors cars after explosion that was targeting the convoy of the Egypt's Interior Minister in Cairo, Egypt on September 05, 2013. Source:  Shutterstock .

CAIRO - SEP 05: Remains of a big local store at Mostafa Nahas st and neighbors cars after explosion that was targeting the convoy of the Egypt's Interior Minister in Cairo, Egypt on September 05, 2013. Source: Shutterstock.


In addition to pushing the subject of radical police reforms (a revolutionary demand) to the bottom of the list of things that can be discussed when (and if) the war ends, the media have also helped shove the fed-up security forces back to direct confrontation with protesters, namely student protesters. Ever since college campuses nationwide have become the center of MB protests, a debate within and outside the ministry has raged over whether or not the police should ignore another revolutionary demand (that they stay off campuses). The debate further exemplifies the police’s disdain for the civilian inability to appreciate their heavy-handedness.

“If Cairo University bursts in flames right now, I will not budge,” vowed the red-faced colonel, who still remembers the days when faculty members filed a lawsuit for the removal of security forces from campuses for freedoms and other nonsense, he said mimicking their voice childishly.

“The MOI is not (their) handmaiden, or anybody else’s for your information,” the colonel snapped, wagging a finger. “(Universities) kicked us out when we took care of things, so don’t come running back now. We don’t from and go as you please.” Which is why the police now require a phone call by the head of a university requesting their services before they make an appearance at or near the gates, where they obligingly position their weapons between the bars to shoot bullets and tear gas canisters at the protesting, rock-throwing students. Although they often wander further in and kill or seriously wound someone.


To many officers, the most significant change since 2011 in the ministry – besides the long-awaited pay raise, which was presumably granted to bring back absent officers who didn’t want to face angry Egyptians for less than 2,000 pounds a month – has more to do with the army and how the MB helped them get over their old rivalry with the Interior.

“There is used to be coldness between us,” said a young detective lieutenant. “We thought we were better than them and they thought they were better than us. But after Morsi, we started talking... And we worked on the street shoulder to shoulder, protected each other and broke bread together. We are one now,” he added, earnestly. This seems to corroborate a Reuters’ report about how mid-ranking police officers actively sought out and met their military colleagues to win them over and explain why their arch-enemy, the MB, should be a common enemy.

Some of the friction between the two is believed to have been born from police resentment of the additional financial and social privileges their army colleagues received, which should have been reduced by the pay raise, according to another ex-NDP MP.

However, some things don’t change – like the officers' respect for Mubarak's infamous former interior minister, Habib el-Adly, which they justify with tough-dad analogies and by citing his sagaciously heavy hand with Islamists and the creation of fancy sports clubs and hospitals for the force in his time. That deference to el-Adly has been passed down to the recently-graduated generation of officers, who never even worked under him and believe the rumor that the ministry’s budget allocated 6,000 pounds a month for their lowest-ranking officers (the lieutenants), when they were in fact only getting a meager 750 pounds. “[El-Adly] even used to tell officers who complained about their salaries that it was just their ‘pocket money'… you take your actual salary from the citizen,’” said the ex-NDP MP, chuckling at al-Adly’s (and her own) candour.

But despite the pay raise and the promise of more to come, lower level officers are unlikely to attain much social or personal gain in the coming years. A first lieutenant's salary is still, and will probably continue to be, not enough to afford him a life where he can sit in cafes often, shop or marry comfortably without the help of his father. “I have been working for three years now and I still have to take money from my parents,” a young detective said, laughing sheepishly. "Better than taking it from the citizen, right?"

The detective went on to say that if we ignore the fact that the force is underpaid, overworked, under-appreciated and under-equipped, it is one of the best in the world for it “has nothing, but does everything,” according to the impressed, and overtly envious, Western envoys his superiors told him about. “They [the Western envoys] always ask them: ‘How do you do this?’” he said with satisfaction.

Also happy with June 30 are the  feloul (remnants of the Mubarak regime) who are suddenly also proud of their label, the ex-NDP MP said.“You know, when I walk into a conference or meeting, the first thing I say is I am feloul. We all do. The best minister in the cabinet now is feloul,” she said, patting her ironed-stiff black hair before adding that there was and still is nothing wrong with supporting Mubarak’s dictatorship or the “inheritance project” [i.e the plan to pass down the presidency to his son, Gamal] since at least, she argued with a sneer, it would have yielded civilian rule – “the unlikeliest form of governance in Egypt now.”

Police brutality (part 2)

Also published in El Shorouk this week is this horrifying, familiar account of torture by a journalist working for the satellite channel MBC, Islam Fathi, whose ordeal began -- as they often seem to -- when he got into an argument with an officer while trying to approach the site of an explosion in Minya. The piece is too long for me to translate entirely, but here is a sample. After he has been beaten and subjected to a torture called "the bag" that involves tying together and suspending the prisoner from his handcuffed hands and feet:   

As I was hanging there all night I saw the legs of soldiers and officers coming in and out to beat me. I even saw a woman dressed in black, she must have worked in the station, because she made them tea -- she also joined them in beating me, and said to them: ‘Beat him some more, he’s not getting out of here alive.’
Then soldiers took Islam to a cell and ordered him to face the wall. After two hours the door opened and another high-up officer who said: ‘So you’re the one acting like a big man?’and he was taken back to the room for another torture session.
The officer was hitting me himself and said to me: ‘Say: I’m this…I’m that.’

After all this, the officer he had an argument with asks Islam: "Have you learned your lesson now?" He is charged with attacking the authorities (the charges are dropped when he says he will not contest them in any way) and a nearby hospital refuses to document his torture. Eventually he goes to another hospital; files charges; and goes to the press. He tells Shorouk: "If they did this to me for no reason, knowing I'm a journalist, what might happen to poor, simple people?" 

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?



"Sometimes the people want ugly things"

A column by Reem Saad (reposted by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights) on the recent killing of  37 prisoners in police custody. According to the testimony of the survivors, an officer threw tear gas into the transport truck and waited alongside it as all but 7 of them chocked to death inside, begging to be let out.  

My rough translation:

"These citizens were killed in this ugly way not just under the eyes of the state but by its very hand. This was not the first nor will it be the last incident of this kind, as long as this brutal police force remains unreformed and unaccountable. What is particularly regrettable in this sad story is that the responsibility belongs not only to those who committed this crime but to a large segment of society, which the current circumstances and the continuous media incitement have perhaps put into a state of psychological imbalance, to the point that it dreams of a quick and final way of putting an end to the violence of the Brotherhood and to the brutal behavior of the organization and of others who belong to the Islamist movement. 
The slaughter at Abu Zabal prison is the literal execution of the expressions that have become commonly repeated among ordinary Egyptians, offered as a solution to the problem, such as: "Why not just gather them all up in one place and set them on fire and get rid of them?"
The tale of Kerdasa's police chief

 Thugs are thugs. They attack because they can. It makes little difference whether they are from the MB or not. Those were Kerdasa's police chief Mohamed Gabr's thoughts on his unfriendly neighborhood thugs, according to his relative Mohamed Khalil, which he conveyed a month before his brutal murder became a default example of the violence carried out by some Islamists.

Khalil and his friend Amr (an acquaintance) met chief Gabr the night they got into car accident and were taken to the Kerdasa police station for driving without a license on the Mehwar. The man offered the tea and coffee while they waited for the unlawful released the car without due process. Mostly done as a favor for his relative, partly because parts of the vehicle were going to “get misplaced” in police custody anyway. 

There Khalil and Amr encountered two signs of police weakness. The first came as a suggestion by chief Gabr himself to pay a neighborhood thug some money to let their car be and the second stood as a reminder outside the station. 

It was a lonely watchtower that fell outside of the station’s premises, inexplicably completely out of reach for the officers who were supposed to man it. The tower is the awkward result of a standoff between the police and thugs months ago that took place when the station was being restored after the 2011 nationwide attacks on the police. They had begun to build an enclosure wall around the then-new tower. However, their plan was frowned upon by a group of thugs, who had unilaterally decided that they owned the land outside the station and didn’t wish to see a wall built on it. The land, they decreed, was going to be used as a garage, where they could keep the new cars they found parked alone nearby. Outnumbered (and humiliated I might add), the police conceded to build the wall behind the tower, leaving it stranded in the new garage.

One of the few, if not the only, positive outcomes of Jan 25 that people cite is the breaking of the barrier of fear. People now are not afraid to speak their mind, protest, etc. But courage turned into impudence for some. Now people also feel safe criticizing the killing of hundreds mostly peaceful protesters, or retrieving a family member from a jail cell and shooting whoever doesn’t get out of their way fast enough.

That prompted chief Gabr to take a series of precautions to avoid the recurrent violence. First, he decided not to keep weapons in the stations anymore - nothing more than the handguns carried by each officer, that is - to dissuade nonpaying gun shoppers from visiting. And then he decided to play Hide and Seek (Elsewhere) with the families of all prisoners.

"If I arrest someone, I always make sure they get transferred to another prison so their families wouldn't know where he is," he had explained to Khalil in his office over tea. "If a prisoner spends the night here, his family will come in, take the keys, unlock the gate and take him out. If I so much as say a word; I would get shot." And he did, less than a week ago.

Only he wasn't just shot, they also reportedly slit his throat, stripped him down to his underwear, tied him to a car, next to his subordinates who suffered a similar fate, and dragged him around the station for a while before coming to rest in front of a brick wall (believed to be al-Sho'araa mosque, 300 hundred meters away from the station) where his body was dumped alongside others on the ground for people to gawk at.

There, the corpses were videotaped and asked why they brought that upon themselves. Their mothers were cursed and their red faces were covered with white sheets, only to be repeatedly uncovered by curious bystanders. (To sample the mindless violence, watch this video of one of the victims, seemingly alive, being asked to say the shahada, and when he failed to respond, a bystander furiously concluded that he was a Zionist).

Meanwhile, other bystanders cursed “the bearded sheikhs” that allegedly killed the policemen, only hours after the dispersal of the Raba'a sit-in begun, according to Mohamed Hossam, a local who watched the attack from his balcony with his neighbors.

“The neighbors were crying the whole time. My own father didn’t eat for the rest of the day,” he said, as if more perplexed by the emotional reaction to the vile public murder of almost a dozen people than by the murder itself.

“(Kerdasa’s islamists) lost people in Raba’a, so they wanted to make an example out of the police in Kerdasa,” he added dryly. “I wanted to do something, anything...but if the police can’t protect itself, then who will protect me?”

Should the Egyptian army and police get to vote?

That is the question that has riled Egypt over the past week, as the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC), in its latest bout of judicial jujitsu, has decreed that – in accordance with the new constitution – since the electoral franchise is supposed to be universal, the previous ban on uniformed services from voting should be lifted. This has triggered howls of outrage by Islamists, who see the judiciary giving the police and army the right to vote as tantamount to vote-rigging, and has been welcomed (to various degrees, and not by all means unanimously) by their opponents.

The recommendation came as part of the SCC's review of a new elections law and a law on parliament – a review that itself is mandated by the new constitution. The SCC's ruling appears correct: since the new constitution guarantees equal rights for all citizens, and makes no mention of an exemption from voting for employees for conscripts, officers, and/or policemen, it stands to reason that they should not be denied the right to vote. Of course, there were no provisions preventing the military and police from voting under the previous constitution, so the SCC appears to have, in this case, made a recommendation that went against longstanding practice – or perhaps more simply it had never had the occasion to rule on this issue before, since it did not get to review legislation under the previous constitution.

A first take to this decision is that it shows, yet again, how foolish the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists were to rush ahead with a constitution that has already come back to bite them in many respects. And their reaction is proving yet more foolish, notably in the shape of calls for the SCC to be abolished altogether because it is seen (despite having been purged by the new constitution of many of its most anti-Islamist components) that are escalating the crisis between the government and the judiciary (judges are now threatening a national strike in response to a draft judicial reform law).

Secondly, it does raise the question of whether – in free and fair elections – giving policemen and soldiers the right to vote would make any difference. Their numbers, including conscripts, amount to nearly two million, enough to make a difference in the last presidential elections, when it is assumed many would have preferred to vote for candidate Ahmed Shafiq.

But whatever their voting preferences, the question may be more whether these institutions would direct their members to vote a certain way – or even lead to the spreading of the hyper-partisanship that characterizes Egyptian politics into the military, an institution that is most keen on maintaining its internal coherence, chain of command, and remaining "above" politics. Thus the striking quote from a retired general in this Washington Post article:

“This is a threat to national security. Divisions in the streets will be reflected in the military — the sectarianism, the partisanship,” said Hossam Sweilam, a retired general who served in the military for more than 30 years. “We are different from other countries. We have political problems. ... This (ruling) would be in the interest of the Muslim Brotherhood and could be a problem for the cohesion of the military.”

The objections by the Brothers and other Islamists have not been particularly reasonable – they argue that this would bring politics "into the barracks" and ask whether the list of conscripts, soldiers and officers would be released to political parties, or whether the people who guard voting stations will then choose this or that candidate. All of this is moot, since barracks can still be made politics-free, the only list political parties should have access to is the national register, and it's easy enough for army and police people to go vote when they are off-duty and out of uniform. After all, as Mohamed ElBaradei points out, most democracies grant a universal right to vote. (See a wider range of reactions by political leaders here.) There is little reason, in principle, to deny the military and police the right to vote ordinary citizens have. It is the logic of a praetorian state, where somehow these stand apart (or actually above) ordinary society, that considers such people "special".

The better argument is that granting a universal right to vote is that these institutions are not ready to implement the safeguards against abuse that exists in democracies. The police is clearly still mostly hostile to the Brotherhood in particular and many of the revolutionary parties. The army, with the backing of the Islamists, has placed itself above oversight in the new constitution. There is very little trust between any political actors, and between these institutions and the political class at the moment. This is not the time to experiment with a major change in regulation – it would be better to actually get elections organized at all, around a formula that is politically consensual. As Egypt continues to pay for the mistakes of the SCAF-led transition and the Brotherhood's go-it-alone style of politics (and their almost comically poorly written constitution), it limps from crisis to crisis with still no horizon for a normalization of politics – one in which the reforms that would, among many other things, enable everyone to vote could be carried out. 


I took over from Issandr this week to pen a post for the New York Times' Latitude blog about the so far unreleased (but now partly leaked) fact-finding report into the deaths and abuses of protesters, ordered -- but so far buried -- by President Morsi.

Last week, the British paper The Guardian published leaked chapters and several articles about the report that was written -- but not released -- by the fact-finding committee President Morsi created in July 2012 to investigate killing and injuring of protesters from the time of the revolution until his assumption of office (although in fact the committee appears to have focused on the revolutionary and early post-revolutionary period only). The Egyptian newspaper El Shorouk had already been reporting on the committee’s findings for several moths. Nour The Intern has heroically waded into these leaks and their coverage, to try to give us a sense of what has emerged from the committee’s work so far. Read it all after the jump. 

An interview with former fact-finding committee members complaining of the limitations of their authority and purview: 

  • According to former committee members, the committee was not allowed to investigate the prison breakouts or the burning of police stations in 2011. When the committee members asked for permission to dig deeper, they were told that “(the authorities) were content with the result of the old investigations.” It’s worth noting that El Shorouk published this tidbit from the old investigations into the prison breaks by the public prosecution, which alleged that they found “that Hamas and Hezbollah had a hand in the (2011) prison breaks" to get "their colleagues” (meaning MB leaders) out of prison.
  • During the committee’s first meeting with former Public Prosecutor Abdel Meguid Mahmoud,  he actually asked the victims' families to "bring (him) evidence."
  • The former committee members complained that the committee was not given authority over state institutions or the proper tools (security details, access to documents, etc) to investigate and collect whatever was left of the evidence, much of which had already been destroyed. 
  • Presumably to make up for the committee’s lack of authority, it included representatives from the Public Prosecution, the MOI, National Security and General Intelligence (it also included a human rights lawyer, a martyr’s family member, a judge and lawyer etc). However, these government agents’ authorities were temporarily revoked in order to join the committee as “fact-finder”, which defeated the supposed purpose of their membership.
  • According to the ex-members, these agents, particularly the MOI and the General Intelligence’s, were more chaperones than helpers.
  • The military officials in the committee, on the other hand, were worse than the MOI, according to Yasser Al-Sayed Ahmed, a committee member, who accused them of “withholding information.” Despite having documented information about the early days of the revolutions, they have kept it and have not given them over to the investigating authorities, he said.
  • The MOI used tear gas ordered in 2002 and expired in 2006. 
  • Thanks to an "encrypted channel," Mubarak was kept up-to-date on everything that happened in Tahrir, which is why committee member Mohsen Behnasi is accusing Anes al-Fekki, the ex-information minister, of obstructing justice and withholding information that are vital to the investigation. He insists that al-Fekki launched the channel for Mubarak and kept a record of everything that was broadcasted on it.
  • Former Interior Minister Habib al-Adli said that the MOI gave out its orders on paper. Each officer got a handwritten order on paper addressing him by name, telling him where to go and what to do. 
  • The committee also discovered that there were attempts to kidnap injured/near death protesters from the hospital by police officers. They also allegedly removed bodies before the deaths (and causes of death) could be documented. Behnasi said that this is was main reason why no death certificates were made for some victims -- their bodies were missing or they were simply buried without a proper examination.
  • The fear of getting arrested or kidnapped in the hospital led many of the injured to seek medical treatment elsewhere, away from governmental hospitals. The injured then refused to give their information fearing that the detectives will somehow managed to track them down.
  • 3/18/2013 El Shorouk: Meanwhile, police officers were caught with large amounts of weapons, belonging  to the station, without permission, months after the 18 days. This article says that a considerable number of officers have been identified by their colleagues when they were confronted with videos of them shooting or beating protesters.
  • On Jan 29, 2011 in Suez, the Armed Forces ordered two officers to go back to the abandoned prison and free the prisoners.
  • Report says that the tear gas, rubber bullets and weapons for law enforcement were delivered by lorries, which were to head to the conflict zones, park far away and wait to be unloaded by the officers. 
  • Also according to El Shorouk, the few officers who were interviewed said that while they were sent these weapons, they never received them because the lorries were parked so far away from clashes; yet the protesters somehow found the trucks, looted them and then used the guns to shoot each other. 
  • The report also states that the MOI and Suez Security Directorate orders were to deal with the protests as riots. They all assigned armed officers to identify and isolate gathering points and disperse the people by all means necessary. Orders also included increasing the number of covert, civilian-clothed officers to infiltrate the protests and make sure they didn't get out of hand. 
  • 3/15/2013 El Shorouk
  • Morsi received the final report of the fact-finding committee he formed to investigate the killing of protesters  on 2nd of January, 2013.
  • The only decision he made regarding the report came out a week later. He decided to create a “Revolutionary Prosecution” using the “Revolution Protection” law he introduced in the constitutional declaration. 
  • Both the declaration and the laws it contained were strictly meant for the transitional period, which Morsi declared over after the approval of the constitution, says lawyer and former committee member Yasser Sayid Ahmed.

 An article in Al Masry Al Youm, not about the fact-finding committee but about the public prosecution’s investigation into 14 cases of killing demonstrators. 

  • Al Masry Al Youm, 5th of March: This is not the fact-finding committee's work though, just the prosecution. The former is investigating 14 main cases, so they cross path sometimes.
  1. When they checked the Tora prison and security forces' camps, they didn't find any of the detainees, but they did find some of their names in the camps’ records.
  2. The MOI's officers that faced the protesters during these events admitted to arresting large numbers of them and transporting them to camps, but claim not to know or be responsible for whatever happened to them there. Their orders were to transport them only.
  3. The prosecution was not notified of many of these arrests when they happened. Though sometimes, they were notified 4-6 days after the arrest was made. Meaning that many protesters were detained but not charged with anything.

According to the statements of protesters, the police followed the same strategy with everyone, which was:

  1. Arrest and assault a person in Tahrir, Abdel Monem Riyad Square or the Corniche. If near the Nile, throw them in it.
  2. Once down, throw them into a truck with everyone else you've arrested and assaulted, and close the windows - mostly so they wouldn't know where you are taking them, partly so they would suffocate (a wish the policer officers felt free to express out loud).
  3. Once there, strip the detainees down to their underwear, beat them senseless, and pace yourself with "Who is paying you to ruin your country?" questions.
  4. Then leave the almost-naked detainees in a small room with no food or water for 3 days.
  1. Officers meanwhile maintained that the protesters were violent and bordering on vandalism, which is why they arrested them, non-violently. Their job was to transport them only; they don’t know what happened to the prisoners after they reached their destination. No one personally saw any transgressions, and thus couldn’t be questioned about it. 

Here is a selection of some of the testimonies given to the fact-finding committee, according to the leaks:

  • The committee received a fax from the mother of Mohamed Hassan Ali Mohamed confirming that her son has been missing since Jan 25, 2012, ever since he went out to celebrate the anniversary of the revolution. He was last seen in front of Maspero. “The next day Mohamed called me and told me not to search for him because I won’t be able to find him. I asked him where he was, he replied saying  “Where am I? I swear I don’t know where I am.” I later called the same number, but someone else answered and told not to call it again. Then the general prosecution sent me a paper saying Mohamed is wanted as a witness.
  • “On the 7th of May, 2012, I went to the General Attorney and told him that Mohamed is missing. I asked an employee that was working on a computer and he told me that Mohamed was sentenced a year and half in military prison, so I went to the military prison and asked about him but I didn’t find him. On my way out of prison, I got on one of the military trucks with an officer who told me ‘the prison is full of lawyers, human rights lawyers and students who were arrested.”’
  • Tawfiq Mohammed Aglan’s mother told the committee that her son went to Tahrir on January 28 and never came home. Eighteen days later, on February 11, he sent his uncle a text message: “Call me.” His mother called him three time and on the fourth call he answered and said: “Yes, mother, it’s me Mohammad” -- then the line dropped. That was the last time she heard his voice. Later that night an unknown man answered the phone and swore at Mohammad’s mother; four months later a man answered Mohammad’s number and said he had obtained the phone from his brother, a soldier, who had found it in the Gabal Ahmar riot police camp, where protesters were detained during the revolution. 
  • The report also says that some of those burials were ordered by the general prosecution without even trying to identify the victims.
  • Witness Kareem al-Ghirbali, friend of the martyr Osama, said that the latter was fluent in English and so was surrounded by foreign reporters, to whom he instantly translated the chants and slogans of the protesters in Tahrir. Osama was kidnapped by a group of people in civilian clothing, detained in the basement of the Egyptian museum for the night and then sent to a military prison. According to the report written on 5th of March, 2011, Osama's autopsy (which was conducted several days after his death) says he died having suffered a sharp drop in blood circulation and respiration, brought on by a brain hemorrhage caused by traumatic injuries. 
  • Zakia, mother of Hassan, a husband and a father of  three, who has been missing since the 29th of Jan. 2011. He went out at 7 pm with nothing but 10 pounds and his national ID. He's uneducated, she says, and he doesn't have a cellphone. She filed many reports the al-Haram police department, went to Wadi El Natron prison, Wadi El Gedeed, the military base and prison at the Hikestep, in addition to military police, Zeinhom morgue and hospitals. 
  • Witness Hassan Shata said he spotted 15 CSF trucks with men in civilian clothing coming out of them. The men mixed with the crowds during friday prayers and attack the CSF, who then responded by beating the protesters. Also include the statement of Samir al-Sayed, father of Amira al-Sayed, a woman who was shot by police officers for videotaped them standing on the roof of al-Raml police station shooting protesters. Amira’s father says he was offered a check for 3 million pounds, to share with the families of other martyrs, by Captain Ahmed Khamees al-Sorogi.


  • Nothing for the most part. The public nodded thoughtfully at the few newspapers, other than El Shorouk (which has been publishing what is probably the same report leaked to the Guardian in installments since January 2013), who mentioned the report.
  • The Guardian’s reports stirred up some, but not much, controversy in newspapers and on TV, but it was mostly dismissed as “sensationalized” for accusing the military leadership outright rather than the individual soldiers who have supposedly committed these crimes. The military quickly denounced the report, considering it a foreign smear campaign SCAF leaders, which will not be tolerated.
  • For its part, the presidency has done nothing and said less.


The police and the Ultras - a pox on both of their houses?

This weekend in Egypt, as in the past several weeks, the Ultras have been out of control, the kids who like to pretend they're Ultras and block traffic have been out of control, and the police has been either nowhere to be seen or out of control. I really recommend listening to this NPR report by Laila Fadel about police degenerating into revenge gangs to put things in context.

I have an op-ed coming up soon in The National about this issue (Update: here it is.) But it's easy to blame the police for everything — no one likes them. Someone needs to stand up to the Ultras and their teenage copycats who vandalize hotels and cars on the Nile Corniche and elsewhere too.

Khaled Fahmy on police reform

Khaled Fahmy asks What doesn't Morsi understand about police reform?, looking at a landmark 1861 decision to end beatings by the Egyptian police.

After I spent many years exploring the National Archives, I concluded that torture was repealed from the Egyptian criminal code in the 19th Century because of a decision from within the state apparatus itself, specifically the police which reached an advanced degree of professionalism. It was also a reflection of a high degree of centralisation, strength and self-confidence of the state’s administrative apparatus, at the heart of which is the police.

It is disappointing to watch the serious regression of the Egyptian state over the past 30 years; a regression back to torture practices at police stations and locations of detention in Egypt.

Even more upsetting is that those in power today do not recognise the dangers of continuing to ignore this explosive issue, especially after a revolution which – in my opinion – primarily occurred to end torture and other systematic abuses by police against citizens.

The president has not said a single word about torture; the prime minister went to the headquarters of Central Security Forces after recent clashes in Port Said to promise them he would give them more weapons; the government has brushed aside all initiatives to reform the police; the minister of justice denied torture existed under President Morsi, and has often said the police cannot be reformed except from within and based on initiatives by its leadership. And so it seems, President Morsi’s government has made up its mind on this matter and does not wish to address police violations, and at the same time cannot force police leaders to change their ways in dealing with the people.

Brothers and cops

Brothers and soldiers: A weakened security apparatus is implicated in political play | Egypt Independent

Good piece by Mohammed Adam on police-MB relations:

Mohamed Mahfouz, former colonel and assistant coordinator of a coalition of officers dubbed “Officers but Honorable,” accused the police leadership of surrendering to the regime out of fear for their posts and the financial benefits they reap through it.

He said leaders are ready to serve any regime, as long as they maintain their positions and secure a source of wealth.

“A large segment of Interior Ministry officers learned the lessons of the January revolution and realized that leaders would be protected by the regime, while they would be leading confrontations in the street,” Mahfouz said. “A minority of officers, though, are ready to carry out any orders.”

Another security officer, who preferred to be referred to as Eissa, agreed with what Mahfouz said about the majority of police officers not wanting to protect the regime.

Meanwhile, some officers do not care who is in power, whether it is the Brotherhood or others — especially junior officers who just want to prove themselves efficient by suppressing people in the street, Eissa said, referring to a prevalent culture within the apparatus.

The judge who loved the police

Minister of justice denies systematic torture by Ministry of Interior - Daily News Egypt

Ahmed Mekki was a hero of the Judges' Intifada of 2006. Since he became an ally of the Muslim Brothers and Morsi's minister of justice, his positions have been despicable:

A discussion held between the committee drafting the Information Act and a number of human rights activists and university professors have broken down on Tuesday after the Minister of Justice Ahmed Mekki consistently defended the Ministry of Interior’s actions.

Mekki attended the meeting along with the head of the history department at the American University in Cairo (AUC) Khaled Fahmy, associate dean of AUC’s business school Nagla Rizk, human rights researcher Amr Gharbeia and the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights’ (EIPR) director Hossam Bahgat.

All four members withdrew from the meeting after Mekki refused to acknowledge any form of systematic torture from the Ministry of Interior.

The meeting was held to discuss the latest draft law surrounding freedom of information which, according to an official statement released by Fahmy, was not brought to the fore.

According to Fahmy, the minister said that the media has been mostly misleading and false. He also said any reform within the interior ministry should be done internally, at which point Fahmy questioned whether the minister really believes that a ministry which “kills and tortures will voluntarily change their style”. If so, Fahmy added, “why not undertake even a single serious restructuring project over the past two years?”

Fahmy pointed out in his statement that there has not been a single punishment handed out to officers in relation to cases of murder or torture.

Bahgat posted on his Twitter that what he had heard from Mekki in relation to the rights of citizens and media freedoms was “far worse” than anything he had ever heard from the Mubarak-era minister, Mufid Shehab.

I'd heard that in a previous meeting with rights activist Mekki urged them not to blame police but rather "lift the hatred of the police from their hearts"

The meaning of Hamada Saber

The ordeal undergone through by Hamada Saber — the man whose beating by police was caught on video and who, under police pressure, blamed protestors — has a meaning, says Nervana Mahmoud in her excellent weekly news review:

 Hamada’s case is another ugly reminder that no one has changed; the police haven’t changed, the leadership hasn’t changed, and many ordinary Egyptians haven’t changed. We will never know what really happened to Hamada, even if he later appeared on TV to tell a different story. Egypt is now a country in which truth is as elusive as its newly born democracy. Hamada is a symbol of what went wrong; in other words, we as a society haven’t changed. I don’t blame him as some do − he is not a celebrity that citizens and foreign embassies will rush to save. He is just a human being who thinks humiliation is his only method of survival.

Saber has once again returned to accusing police of beating him, by the way:

His son Ahmed told Al-Masry Al-Youm Sunday that his father telephoned him Sunday, cried and told him that he was under pressure and terrorized. Then he asked him to get him out of the Police Hospital and take him home or to any other hospital.

“The police forced my father to lie,” he told Al-Masry Al-Youm. “He did not know the incident was filmed.”

The story of Hamada Saber

Hamada Saber went to the presidential palace at Ettihadia on Friday night with his family to protest against President Morsi. At some point in the evening, he ended up stripped naked and beaten by police. The beating was caught by a satellite television channel and broadcast live, instantly turning into an iconic moment of police brutality like that of the video of the girl with the blue bra in December 2011.

Here's the video if you haven't seen it.

The authorities immediately reacted to the footage, with presidency and interior ministry pledging to investigate the matter and condemning the violence. [Update: here's the NYT coverage of their contrition.] Prosecutors began an investigation into the security forces in the footage. But Hamada Saber was still held overnight on Friday by police, and by the time he was hospitalized he began to give a different version of events, as al-Ahram reports:

However, in a shocking turnaround of events on Saturday, Saber and his wife, speaking from the same police hospital the CSF transferred Saber to in the wake of their assault on him, seemed to blame the protesters for the bulk of the suffering he was subjected to on the previous night.

"I was standing at Roxy Square [near the palace] drinking a soda, when a large number of protesters who mistook me for a CSF officer because of my black attire attacked me and stripped me of my clothes," said Saber.

"The protesters were angered by the fact that I tried to dissuade them from firing bird shots at the police," claimed Saber.

Fathya, the assaulted man's wife who was by his bedside at the police hospital, sent a message of gratitude to the ministry of interior.

"The police are very respectful and are standing by our side, and the minister's assistant for human rights has passed by and will come again tomorrow [Saturday]," Fathya told ONTV.

Moreover, on Saturday night, Saber, told state TV that he was caught in the fight between protesters and the police.

"The protesters fired an unknown bullet at me and robbed me. When I saw the CSF soldiers coming at the crowd, I was scared and I ran. The soldiers chased after me yelling they wanted to help me. When I fell, they caught me and said: 'you gave us a hard time, man.'"

The public prosecutor then began to change tack and began to blame protestors for beating the man — even though the video evidence clearly showed that whatever protestors did, the police clearly hit Saber. Saber is effusively thanking the interior ministry. Everything points to him having been coerced into not pressing charges at the ministry and being cooperative. From al-Ahram, again:

News reports leaked from "investigators" and "authorities" to media outlets throughout the day on Saturday threw doubts in some people's minds on what actually Saber did, what the police did, and what the police wanted the world to think had happened on Friday night.
One report, for example, picked up by a number of online papers said that investigators who were questioning Saber could charge the assault victim with possession of 18 Molotov cocktail bombs and two buckets of gasoline intended for making fire bombs.
Later in the day, the minister of interior reportedly called the victim to apologise on behalf of the ministry and promised to offer Saber, who said he is a day labourer who is constantly short on gigs, a job.
In the early hours of Saturday night, Saber, who seemed to be recovering well at the police hospital, made the rounds on Satellite TV.
In one such interview, Saber told Al-Hayat TV that the police had a good reason to treat him the way they did because he was resisting arrest.
"I understand what they did because the protesters were near and I was giving them a hard time."
As the Al-Hayat reporter pressed Saber to explain how he was being saved by his attackers, the man insisted: I know what is in my best self-interest. Do not instigate serious problems for me."

He does not want problems. One can understand. But it does appear that he is being threatened into shutting up so that the police and the government don't see this turning into the same iconic moment as previous instances of beatings and abuse. Human rights lawyers and his own family (which was on the scene) have kept on saying that he was beaten by police.

In the most surreal part of this sad episode, Hamada Saber and his daughter Randa ended up arguing about what happened to him on a major satellite TV talk show, with Hamada accusing Randa of having taken money from satellite channels to lie about him. Here's the footage:

Whatever happened to Hamada, the police did what it did, and he appears to have been intimidated against blaming the interior ministry as the government worked overtime to carry out damage limitation. Such practice is actually quite typical of what has happened in Egypt for decades, including since the 2011 uprising. If you look at the court cases into police murders during the 18 days of the uprising, you often have officers leaning on the families of the victims to settle out of court or withdraw charges. Not that many have been actually convicted thus far, or that there has been any attempt at creating either a transitional justice process or carry out serious security sector reform thus far — under SCAF or under Morsi.

[Thanks to Ashraf Khalil and Samer Atrush for some of the links used here. Update: here's Ashraf's piece on the incident.]

Update: More surrealism:

And an eye-witness account of the beating.

Egypt mulls new anti-protest law

Nour Youssef writes in about a new law being drafted by the Egyptian Ministry of Justice in response to the recent protests, as highlighted in this article [Ar]:

The ministry of justice drafts a law to regulate the right to protest and die as a direct result of it.

    Translated the dumbest points in it:

  1.  Police officers have the right to use more force and “not just shot cartouche in the air,” citing attacks on police stations as applicable examples. What’s odd is that they're just paraphrasing the same old “They are thugs attacking institutions, we are allowed to fire at them in defense” argument that's not only worn out, but already based on a law, making this one redundant. Of course, this could just be a pretense for officers to shoot whomever they want, claim they were committing a crime, and escape legal prosecution, but officers don't require assistance in that domain.  
  2.  Protesters must give a five-days’ notice to the MOI before demonstrating, as if protests just spontaneously pop into existence in Egypt. Not only does everyone with ears know about every protest, about a week or so in advance, they also know where it is going to take place, its name, its agenda, how many people are expected to show, and most importantly, that the MOI knows about it and is prepared for it. Human brains are supposedly hardwired to detect patterns, surely by now MOI should have noticed a correlation between angry people, Fridays and Tahrir Square.
  3.  A minimum distance of 500 meters must be maintained at all times between every protest and vital places, like presidential palaces, legislative bodies, police departments, etc. While it may not be a bad idea, it's probably unrealistic and will only serve as a reason to take advantage of point 1, which is a bad idea. Also, it introduces the question of whether or not the officers can even aim at eyes from such a long distance? 
  4. No protesting after 11 pm, those who protest anyway will be fined a minimum of 20,000 pounds. But rest assured it explicitly states that it will never exceed 50,000 pounds to express one's views at such an inconvenient hour, not in this free country.
  5. In the unlikely event that the interior minister doesn’t welcome a protest, he can ask a judge to review the case  and– if MOI has "good grounds," which means everything from quicksand to hot air – the judge will accordingly decide to cancel, postpone or relocate the protest in question. Obviously, there is no conceivable way to abuse this law. None whatsoever. 
✚ Brute force: Inside the Central Security Forces

Brute force: Inside the Central Security Forces | Egypt Independent

Good piece by Mohamed Adam and Sarah Carr for Egypt Independent:

On the eve of 28 January 2011, the most deadly day of the 18-day uprising, a Central Security Forces (CSF) conscript, who asks to be referred to as Hossam to protect his identity, was nonchalant.

“My friends and I went out together in the lorry and we were laughing and joking. We thought it would just be a normal protest,” says the thin 22-year-old conscript, whose fingernails are chewed down to the quick.

By that evening Hossam was running for his life — in his underwear. Abandoned by their commanding officers and surrounded by hoards of angry protesters, Hossam and other recruits tore off their uniforms in an attempt to escape identification.

“My commanders, who always said to me, ‘Be a man, be a man’ ran away and left us,” Hossam said.

He eventually made his way home — before taking to the streets with his friends and joining protesters.

The mass protests of 2011 were the CSF’s first real test, and it failed abysmally.