Monday, January 30, 2006

Human Rights for Egyptian Gays

A chance to write about Wissam Abyad, a man who because of his sexual orientation found himself threatened, harassed, arrested and humilated by the Egyptian security apparatus. He survived, and with the help of Egyptian and international activists, is now free, although forced to live abroad. There's a charming and important story in the most recent edition of Bay Windows, a LGBT publication out of New England about Wissam and his reunion with his Egyptian mother.

Working on gay rights in the Arab Middle East, as for much of the world, is controversial. Many Egyptian activists refuse to do so, (although there are important and courageous exceptions). The arguments presented to us are crouched in comments about cultural imperialism, imposing Western values on another region -- although the arguments I hear against working on LGBT issues are often the same I hear from some Christians in my home state of North Carolina.

But Wissam's story makes it clear why we must work on these cases. The same security apparatus used to crack down on academics such as Saad Ibrahim was also used against Wissam and other Egyptian gays. The same "security courts" used against human rights activists and Muslim Brothers were used against Egyptian gays. The same system that tortures Egyptian defendants is faced with allegations of torture by gay prisoners.

This underscores why it is essential to work on LGBT cases. You can not defeat torture without ending torture of LGBT prisoners. You can not end unfair trials and not work on unfair trials against LGBT defendants. You allow security groups to entrap and harass gay men, and the same methods will end up being used against other groups. It is, in essence, the same argument I make to implore the U.S. to treat the abuses against Muslim Brothers as important as any other group.

I read Wissam's story, and having heard him before, I'm proud that Amnesty and other HR groups consider his case important. He is such a gentle, warm man. In a small but important way, his stand against oppression is as much a part of the human rights revolution in the Middle East as any.

Click here for AIUSA's Outfront page

Click here for a Human Rights Watch report on abuses against gays in Egypt.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

What Hamas' election means for Egypt

Numerous commentators are already linking Hamas' surprise victory in PNA elections to the strong showing of the Muslim Brothers in Egypt. I would caution against making too sweeping a statement, but it is certainly clear that Islamist parties are showing strength in many parts of the region. One important factor in this is the attack on civil society by authoritarian governments. Whereever this occurs, and it has occured both in Egypt and the PNA and elsewhere, you drive opposition into Islamist parties. Egyptian activists have been saying for many years.

Meanwhile, other commentators have focused on how this hurts U.S. policy in the region and President Bush's drive for democratization. I don't entirely buy this. Obviously, a Hamas victory is not to our liking; neither would a Muslim Brother victory in Egypt. But our support for democracy in the region must not be contingent upon those countries electing governments we like. In fact, everyone seems to be overlooking a remarkable development: the defeat of a long-standing ruling party and the essentially peaceful transfer of power to an opposition group. This is the critical element of any election. I see this as an earthshattering development, one that should inspire voters in Egypt and elsewhere in the region that they too have the power to get rid of their rulers. How can that not be a good thing.

So the U.S. should not pull back on its push for democracy. Of course I have long argued that regardless of what we do, Egyptian activists will continue the democraticization effort and to far greater effect than what we do. However, the events in PNA do bring out one more point: there is a difference between pushing for democracy and pushing for human rights. The Bush administration has concentrated on the former rather than the latter. I would see the priorities reversed. Many people generally assume that democracy and human rights are closely linked, and certainly they are related, but they aren't the same thing. Democracies abuse human rights. This is now so much more evidentially true in 2006 than any time before. On the other hand, other forms of government, such as monarchies, can rule with a very strong human rights record. Amnesty International does not take a stand on what kind of government countries have. We expect all governments to protect the human rights of its citizens and to end human rights abuses in general. This is the commitment Hamas must now make in power, and a commitment we will expect them to fulfill, just like every other government. Ensuring Hamas fulfills that commitment should be our main concern. Fretting about whether Middle East democracy will lead to the Islamist victories across the region should be secondary.

Here are some recent posts about the election

The Washington Post says the election is a defeat for the Bush administration

Blogger D-Day
says the election shows the U.S. is too narrowly focused on elections.

Slate wonders what it will take to civilize Hamas

Blogger Mickey Kaus questions the usefulness of going easy on Hamas

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Twelve injured in attack on church

The BBC is reporting that at least 12 people were injured when Muslims attacked Copts attempting to convert a house into a church. The incident occurred in Odaysat, near Luxor. At least two policemen were also injured in subsequent clashes.

This marks the second incident of sectarian violence in Egypt in the past four months.

Egypt has a religious freedom problem. Amnesty has expressed concern about harassment of Copts and arrests of Sufis, Bahais and other religious minorities. More extensively, Freedom House, a Washington, D.C., based human rights organization has focused several reports on Egypt. And the recent incidents of sectarian violence is troubling and a possible indication that these feelings are on the rise. In this context, the U.S. Congress in particular has pressed for action in Egypt to protect the Copts.

That being said, Amnesty International has always approached the problems of the Copts as a human rights issue, within the broader context of the human rights abuses in the country. Copts face discrimination: The Egyptian laws restrict their right to build or renovate churches, among other things. When a few years ago numerous Copts were tortured in an out-of-control murder investigation by authorities, the underlying problem wasn't discrimination against Copts, but the fact that torture is systemmatic in Egypt. Some of the reports raising legitimate religious freedom concerns in Egypt have been weakened by too narrowly focusing on those issues. It invites rebuke and alienation in Egypt when the U.S. Congress expresses concern about harassment of Copts, but never about Muslim Brothers or other of the non-violent political Islamists.

In raising human rights concerns, both the U.S. government and NGOs should apply a single standard. We must speak loudly about abuses, but be cautious about giving special preference to any group. Through consistency, we can be more effective politically. By any account, the best way to protect Copts, to end the real abuses they face, is to promote a broad human rights agenda for Egypt.

Click here for a BBC report on rioting that killed three Copts in October.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Egypt, the U.S. and Renditions

This being the fourth anniversary of the detention of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, it's appropriate to mention the network of renditions and secret detentions, its role in affecting U.S.-Egyptian relations and what it means for human rights in Egypt.

Let's start with two cases. Sami al-Laithi has been held in Guantánamo Bay without charge or trial for over three and a half years. On 10 May, US authorities determined that he is not an ‘enemy combatant’ through the Combatant Status Review Tribunal (CSRT) procedure. He remains held at Guantánamo until his transfer is complete.

According to reports, Sami al-Laithi has been sexually abused while in Guantánamo and consistently threatened with return to Egypt. On one occasion a visiting Egyptian delegation are reported to have told him that he would “certainly come back to Egypt” where he was told he would be subjected to military trial. He is currently held at Camp V, a prison block for about 80 detainees who are held for up to 24 hours a day in solitary confinement in a concrete cell approximately four metres by two metres.

Sami al-Laithi is believed to have left Egypt in 1986 to stay with his sister in Pakistan. He has never returned, fearing persecution for his criticism of the Egyptian authorities. He is said to have fled from Pakistan to Afghanistan after two Egyptian officials were sent to find him. In Afghanistan he taught English and Arabic at Kabul University until the US-led invasion of Iraq when he fled back to Pakistan. Shortly after this he is believed to have been seized in Pakistan and subsequently sold to US forces. Soon after this he was transferred to Guantánamo Bay. For more, click here.

Case two, the flip side of long-term detentions: Osama Nasr Mostafa Hassan was abducted on a street in Milan and allegedly driven to the US air base in Aviano, Italy, where he was interrogated and drugged before being taken to the US military base in Ramstein in Germany. From there he was flown to Egypt, where he was allegedly tortured, including with electric shocks. Although released in 2004 he was rearrested and remains held in an unknown place of detention, although it has been suggested that he may again be detained in Damanhour prison, Egypt, where he may be at risk of torture or ill-treatment. On 24 June 2005 an Italian judge ordered the arrest of 13 CIA officers for their alleged involvement in his abduction. For more, click here.

Last week, news reports indicated that Egyptian government fax intercepted by Swiss intelligence offers the first "real evidence" that the US interrogated suspected terrorists at secret prisons in Eastern Europe. The report provides more evidence of the links between U.S. and Egyptian security officials in the mistreatment of prisoners in the war on terror.

The evidence is growing that the U.S. is using a variety of means: detention at Guantamano, renditions to countries where prisoners risk torture, and detention in secret prisons. In many cases, these efforts require the cooperation of foreign security officers.

I believe this effort is a significant obstacle to the stated U.S. effort to bring more democracy and human rights to the Middle East, Egypt specifically. In my opinion, no U.S. president has given more speeches on Middle East human rights than George W. Bush. He has eloquently and repeatedly stated what needs to be said.

And yet, I continue to believe that what little progress we have seen deserves to be credited to the work of Egyptian human rights activists, far more than the efforts of the U.S. government. The work and messages made by the Egyptian activists have the beauty of being powerful and consistent: End torture now.

U.S. policy contravene the public statements of support for human rights. You can not ask Egypt to bring an end to torture on one hand, and on the other hand be directly complicit in the use of torture, both in Egypt and of Egyptians in foreign detention centers. It simply doesn't work. Why would the Egyptian government listen?

Click here to read observations last week from an AI observer at Guantamano military trials.

Click here to read AI's report on the fourth anniversary of Guantamano detentions.

Click here to read AI's report on CIA black sites.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Abuse of Muslim Brothers prisoners

Egyptian activists are raising concern about the inhumane treatment of the jailed Muslim Brothers members. Since they were rounded up by State Security Investigators (SSI) during the last election, those prisoners have not been charged with any crimes, have no right to attorney and are deprived of their basic human needs, according to Egyptian NGOs.

Mr. Ahmed Abdelhafaz, the jailed Muslim Brotherhood Spokesperson in Alexandria began a hunger strike in protest of the inhumane treatment and the constant physical and psychological abuse him and other Brotherhood prisoners are suffering on the hands of the prison administration at Borg Al Arab prison in the suburbs of Alexandria.

Some of them do not even have their proper IDs because they were not given time to gather their personal belongings when they were arrested. Prisoners as many as 25 were placed in 14x19 feet filthy cells.

In addition, the government is withholding medical treatment from some of the chronically ill prisoners and subsequently, their condition is gradually deteriorating.

Here is the partial list of some of those gravely ill prisoners Units # 25 at Borg Al Arab Prison


1-Adel Abdel Ghani 95699 Congestive Heart Failure

2-Khaled E. Al Issawy 95800 Liver Cirrhosis, Upper GI bleed

3-Abdel Kader Al Agami 95269 Severe Peptic Ulcer with excruciating pain

4-Hamed El Zayat 95053 Diabetes and Liver Cirrhosis

5-El sayed Egeez 95862 Herniated cervical, lumbar and sacral discs

6-Essam Kasabah 95654 Generalized Herpes Zoster

7-Abdel Fatah Mohamed 95715 Esophageal Varices and Liver Cirrhosis

8-Elsayed Abou Elhamayl 95589 Osteomyelitis of Right leg

9-Tayseer Daba 95056 Severe Bronchial Asthma

10-Abdallah El sebaey Liver and kidney failure & requires dialysis

11-Mohamed Al Bendary 95858 Uncontrolled Diabetes

12-Ahmed Mira 95061 Herniated cervical Disc & Left Otitis Media

13- Mohamed Taraf 95588 Bronchial Asthma

14-Mohsen Al Atrabi 95723 Herniated Lumbar and Sacral discs

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Egyptian Government Muzzling Civil Society

On Dec. 25, the Egyptian Administrative Court rejected the application of the Egyptian Association Against Torture. The group's founders, which includes noted human rights advocates such as Susan Fayed and Aida Seif el Dawa and others, plan to appeal the rejection.

The rejection occurred despite the recommendations of the state consultant's report, which not only recommended approval of the NGO but was a strong statement of support for NGOs and on behalf of human rights. However, the rejection is not surprising; there has been a clear pattern of stifling the formation and support of NGOs as part of the government's larger effort to muzzle civil society. The rejection of legitimate NGO applications, as well as the harassment of existing NGOs is of the same as the government's harassment and arrest of political opponents, regulation of political parties, control of the media and professional organizations and even attacks on marginal ethnic, social and religious groups.

This is anomaly. Egypt has a long and strong history of civil society. On one side, this is shown in its vibrant intellectual life through the arts and literature and universities . It's also been shown through in its politics, which has always found room for socialists, nationalists, liberals, secularists, Islamists, Copts and other many other groups. The vibrant civil society has been essential to allowing all these groups c0-exist. The result hasn't always been pretty, but it's been stable in a region of unstability. Supporters of the Mubarak regime appear to believe that stability comes from it's authoritarian rule and they oppose any efforts to change that. They are wrong, completely wrong. The Mubarak government, of course, isn't the first to try to control civil society, but with passage of the recent NGO law, and with the government's aggressive use of its authority under that law and the State of Emergency provisions, we are going into new territory.

So, the rejection of a small NGO's application is significant. In many ways, this is where the real battle for reform will take place, because the existence and operation of these groups will always provide some buffer against an authoritarian government, and an important outlet for political and social activity. People far more attuned to Egyptian politics than I -- Saad Ibrahim for one -- point out that in crushing civil society, the Egyptian government only ensures that the only effective outlet for political opposition is the Islamist groups. In recent weeks there has been a lot of attention to whether the U.S. government should pressure Egypt on political reform. It should, of course, but in doing so, the U.S. should not neglect the important role and important needs in creating space for Egyptian civil society.

Click here for an Amnesty International report on Egyptian civil society.

Click here for an AI report on the arrest of five members of Egyptian NGOs last year.

Click here for a 1999 statement on the Egyptian NGO law.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Testimonies of Torture

The El Nadim Center in Egypt, an important NGO that treats victims of torture, violence and domestic abuse, has released a number of testimonies from people detained or beaten during the recent police raid on the Sudanese refugees. I want to quote extensively from one and then add some comments. The names in the testimony have been changed to protect the victims.

Nour El Edrisi, carries a blue card, was given local settlement. He finished his university studies and could not receive his graduation certificate because he did not do his military service!

He says: I was supporting the protesters. On that day I was in the camp. There were many security forces in the area. We were worried. But the Egyptian women in the nearby garden (who sold us tea and food throughout the sit in) told us there is going to be a demonstration by the Islamists and they advised us to stay inside the camp and take refuge therein. The same thing was repeated by many sources. Our friends outside the camp told us that the streets surrounding the camp are being blocked by security forces.

We saw about 30 or 40 men wearing white, short gowns. Many of them were bearded. They stood in two lines facing the mosque. The police cars and trucks kept coming and the soldiers started to surround the camp. At first their backs were towards us separating us from the “Brotherhood”. After a while they turned towards us. All the time Sudanese were allowed into the camp after being searched and their papers taken away from them.

An officer started talking to us through a microphone: You know that we are here to remove this camp. We have prepared camps for you with all means of comfort.

We sent a delegation to negotiate with the officer. The delegation agreed to move to the “prepared” camp provided 5 or 6 of us first go to see the place. The officers refused. All the time we were trying to get in touch with UNHCR staff. But none answered our calls. We decided we shall stay until they take us away.

At two or three they opened the way for two fire brigade cars, one from the left, another from the right. They started the water cannons. Water to us is a natural thing, especially those coming from the South where it rains heavily throughout the year. They laughed. We asked them not to be provocative. After the second shot of water cannons someone came from the southerners and tried to negotiate with both parties and failed.

Until this moment we did not anticipate the violence to come. We even sat down and food was distributed to the protesters.

The soldiers started shouting. Our women cheered indicating that they are not afraid. We had hope that is soon will be dawn and we shall be safe again.

Water cannons were shot again. Everybody covered themselves either with a blanket or a plastic cover. This time the water was finished. I pulled the cover off my head. I could not see but kicking and beating from all sides. Wherever one turned there was beating. I don’t know when and how the soldiers were all over the place inside the camp, all over.

We had a disabled woman among us. Her name was Naglaa. She said: Go and leave me. We covered her with a plastic sheet while she was sitting on the floor. They beat her up brutally until an officer recognized that she was a woman. They carried her outside.

Some of us escaped to the trees. The trees would break and we would fall on top of each other. This may be how many children died. They beat directly on the head. I saw a man fall on the ground, holding a child. He lifted the child up and threw him up hoping that someone might catch him. Nobody was there to catch him and he was stepped over.

Most of us were dizzy. Maybe the water had something in it. Maybe they sprayed us with something. Maybe it was the brutal beating. The screaming was everywhere.

There was no way out but to be carried or taken by the police. Whoever falls was carried by 3 or 4 soldiers, who would hand him over to other soldiers outside the camp and then come back to take others. Soldiers outside continued the beating until they reached the buses. In the bus, too, there were soldiers. All the time they were insulting and humiliating us. In the bus there were people breathing heavily and women calling for their children and there were many injured. Ambulance cars were nearby but they did not care. Why? We did not know who among us was dead and who was only injured.

They took us to the central security camp in Tora. We lay on the dusty ground. Our clothes were wet. We were outside the wards. It was then that we realized what camp was “prepared” for us. They started classifying us and record our names. Then ambulance cars appeared. The very severely injured were taken away. We don’t know where. The remainder received superficial first aid. Drinking water was scarce. The treatment was cruel and we are all bruised."

Nour was very tired while giving his testimony. His eyes were tearful throughout. His voice was low and sad and confused. I suggested that he stop to drink something. He refused. He started talking about other colleagues who are in desperate need of him and medical help. He left promising to bring his colleagues to the clinic.


I encourage everyone to link to the previous post to take action to prevent the refugees from being returned to Sudan where they face retribution and violence. This event is a reminder that despite the best efforts of international law to provide protection, refugees from violence are often put in situations where they have no options. They face violence both in Sudan and in Egypt. The Egyptians have an obligation to follow international law and stop the violence against the refugees and to provide them with shelter. But the obligation is not the Egyptians alone; They can not carry the responsibility for carrying for these refugees by themselves. At a time that the refugee population around the world continues to grow -- a large number of them Muslim -- this is an issue that faces the entire world.

The second point I wanted to make is the world is taking notice. A demonstration in front of the Egyptian embassy last Friday brought about 60 people. I haven't seen any news coverage of the event, but here is a good description of it with photos.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Amnesty International Urgent Action: Act Now to Help Sudanese Refugees in Egypt

The Egyptian authorities announced on 3 January that they intend to forcibly return up to 650 Sudanese nationals, who have been detained, to Sudan on 5 January. The group is believed to include asylum-seekers and refugees recognised by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) who were not carrying their residency documents when they were arrested. Some would be at risk of torture if returned to Sudan.

Egypt is a state party to the Convention Against Torture and other international agreements which expressly prohibit the forcible return of anyone to a country where they would be at risk of torture or ill-treatment. An Egyptian government spokesperson said on 3 January that the individuals would be sent back because they had “broken the law of the host country.” However, under customary international law and international human rights law, the prohibition on forcibly returning people to countries where they would be at risk of serious human rights violations is absolute in all cases, regardless of whether the people in question have broken any laws. The use of torture against certain individuals and groups by the Sudanese authorities is widely documented by Amnesty International. Deporting the entire group, without giving each member of the group access to adequate procedural guarantees, would violate Article 13 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states that non-citizens may be expelled “only in pursuance of a decision reached in accordance with law.


Tens of thousands of Sudanese nationals have sought asylum in Egypt since the late 1990s, many of them fleeing the civil war in the south of the country and the conflict in Darfur, in the east. The UNHCR has recognized a large number of them as refugees, and large numbers have been resettled in other countries. At the beginning of 2005, there were over 14,000 Sudanese in Egypt whom the UNHCR had recognized as refugees, and thousands more whose asylum applications had been rejected.

The 650 are part of a group of over 2,500 Sudanese nationals who had been involved in a peaceful protest in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, since 29 September 2005. Their demands included improvements to their work and educational opportunities, protection from forcible return to Sudan, and resettlement in third countries. The police broke up the protest violently on 30 December, in an action that left at least 27 protesters dead and dozens of protestors and police injured.

RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send appeals to arrive as quickly as possible, in English, Arabic or your own language:
- expressing concern that the Egyptian authorities are intending to forcibly return up to 650 Sudanese nationals without access to adequate procedural safeguards;
- reminding them that they are bound by customary international law and international human rights law, including the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment, not to send anyone to a country where they would be at risk of torture or ill-treatment;
- urging the Egyptian authorities not to forcibly return anyone to Sudan, if this would put them at risk of torture, ill-treatment or other serious human rights violations;
- calling on the Egyptian authorities to allow all Sudanese nationals in Egypt unhindered access to the UNHCR.


H.E. Muhammad Hosni Mubarak
President of the Arab Republic of Egypt
‘Abedine Palace, Cairo, EGYPT
Fax: +20 2 390 1998
Salutation: Your Excellency

General Habib Ibrahim El Adly
Minister of the Interior, Ministry of the Interior
Al-Sheikh Rihan Street, Bab al-Louk, Cairo, EGYPT
Fax: +20 2 579 2031
Salutation: Dear Minister

National Council for Human Rights
1113, Corniche al-Nil
NDP Building, Cairo, EGYPT
Fax: +20 2 5747670

and to diplomatic representatives of Egypt accredited to your country.


Thursday, January 05, 2006

Amnesty statement on attack on refugees

Amnesty International is calling on the Egyptian government to launch immediately a thorough, independent, and impartial investigation into the killing of at least 27 Sudanese protesters by Egyptian police on 30 December, as well as the injury of dozens more, and to halt the deportation without due process of law of any of the protesters back to Sudan. The organization said such investigation should be conducted with the participation of UN human right experts and members of independent Egyptian human rights organizations. Amnesty International is urging the Egyptian authorities to invite the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions to take part in this investigation.

The killings occurred during clashes between Egyptian police and a group of protesters as the police sought to forcibly disperse a three-month peaceful sit-in of Sudanese refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants in Mustafa Mahmoud Park near the offices of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in the Muhandessin area of Cairo. The police reportedly applied water cannons directly on protesters and subjected them to indiscriminate beatings. The police action left at least 27 Sudanese dead, including women and children, and many others injured.

Amnesty International considers that international standards require that the investigation should look into abuses by the police, including all deaths, and the circumstances surrounding them, as well as the alleged pattern of excessive or unnecessary use of force. Amnesty International said the independence and impartiality of the investigation would be strengthened by the participation of international experts. The Egyptian government should ensure that all those officials responsible for committing, ordering or failing reasonably to prevent any human rights violations should be brought to justice. They also should ensure that victims or their families receive adequate reparation.

Amnesty International is also calling on the Egyptian authorities to ensure that police comply with international standards governing policing activities, including the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, and receive adequate training on fundamental human rights, in particular those protecting the rights to life and to physical and mental integrity of all individuals, among other rights.

Protesters were forcibly removed from the park and taken to various detention centres outside Cairo in public transportation buses. The authorities reportedly released all those in possession of identification documents but continue to detain others.

Amnesty International said the Egyptian authorities should release all Sudanese nationals detained during or following the events of 30 December unless they are to be charged with a recognizable criminal offence. The Egyptian government should also ensure that all those held have full access to lawyers and their families and receive adequate medical treatment, if needed.

Amnesty International is also concerned at the announcement made by Egyptian authorities that up to 650 Sudanese nationals are about to be deported to Sudan; they reportedly include asylum-seekers and may possibly include refugees recognized by UNHCR who were not carrying their identification documents at the time of their arrest. The organization is calling on the Egyptian authorities to halt all such deportations immediately and to ensure that no individual at risk of serious human rights abuses is deported to Sudan, in accordance with Egypt's obligations under international human rights law, the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the customary international norm of non-refoulement. Amnesty International calls on the Egyptian authorities to give unhindered access and adequate time for UNHCR to assess the need of those individuals for international protection. In addition, any deportation of individuals found not to be in need of international protection must be reached in accordance with law; a collective expulsion would violate Article 13 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states that non-nationals may be expelled "only in pursuance of a decision reached in accordance with law."

On 29 September 2005, several hundred Sudanese refugees started a protest in a park opposite the Mustafa Mahmoud Mosque, in the Mohandissen area of Cairo, near the offices of UNHCR. The protestors, who included asylum-seekers, refugees and migrants, were demanding improvements in their living conditions, protection from return to Sudan, and resettlement in a European or North American country, among other demands.

By the end of December, the number of demonstrators had exceeded 2,500 and the Egyptian authorities indicated that they intended to relocate the refugees to the outskirts of Cairo. On the evening of 29 December, police forces surrounded the area while last minute negotiations reportedly took place, involving leaders of the demonstration and officials from the Ministry of Interior. At around 3.30 am on 30 December, the police forces started using water cannons to disperse the demonstration and subsequently beat the demonstrators.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Egyptian police attack Sudanese refugees

I've been out of town for a week, but postings will be regular. Of course, events in Egypt continue. On Saturday, at least 25 Sudanese refugees were killed and many others wounded when thousands of Egyptian police officers stormed a refugee settlement in Cairo in the middle of the night. Here is the LA Times report.

Egyptian NGOs immediately denounced the action. One group reported an eyewitness account; here is an excerpt:

"I arrived campus at 11:00 pm to find State Security Trucks and plain cloth police filling and closing the roads of Batal Ahmed Abdel Aziz, Ahmed Orabi, and Gameet el Dewal streets.

"Public white busses lined up all the way from Donuts House till Mustafa Mahmud square with a few number of state security soldiers sitting inside them. I was able to take down some of the public busses wagon numbers as I walked 4129, 3696, 4107, 4136, 4335, 3416, 3534, and 3416.

"Few minutes and all streets leading to Mustafa Mahmud were totally blocked. Police forces started cornering then disbursing civilian pedestrians.

"At 1:00 am, and it was really cold, security forced started flushing the Refugees with three water cannons from three different sides. First spray lasted for almost 6 minutes and was rather high. We could see the water reaching as high as the 4th balcony of the near-by building. Probably it aimed at destroying the top of their shelters.

"Almost an hour later another 5 minutes of continues water showered them. This time water was low, strong and direct straight at the people.

"Water stopped and a negotiation round started with a Refugees delegated committee, an Egyptian official, and a UNHCR official. The Egyptian said “UNHCR will do nothing for you. We are authorized by the highest power in the state to disburse this sit in today”. Refugees’ reply was “we will die on the turf”.

"At 4:45 am the troops were lining up properly and the first circle of formations moved closer to surround the refugees. Their warm up exercise echoed in the empty city as they exchanged stepping on each foot at once saying ho- ho- ho- masr! and singing ‘ya ahla esm fel wegood yaa masr’ meaning To Egypt, who has the most beautiful name ever, whose name was created to be eternal, for Egypt we live.. and for Egypt we die.

"Refugees lined up and started warming up too but saying ‘allah akbar’, ‘la ilaha ella allah’ and ‘hasbona allah wa neama al wakil’ meaning there is no god but allah and only him we delegate to handle our injustice. The Christians chanted Halleluiah. And this set identity for the war players. The few civilian audience started cheering for the Egyptian army against the dirty / black / Christian parasites. Yes, there was no humanity in the scene.

"At 5 am sharp the 3 water cannons flushed them again and right beside the water line security forces timely attacked the Refugees campus with batons and shields. After 1 minute the water stopped. Soldiers destroyed the rest of their makeshift homes and pulled up their front line of luggage throwing it away as other soldiers made their way in.

"Refugees fought back with wood sticks (that was keeping their shelters), plastic empty water jars and gallons, and their hands.

"The left side (the side of Radwan Ogeil store) fought back very bravely and was able to force soldiers retreat out for three times throwing on them their helmets after kicking them away but the other two sides soldiers were breaking in. Sounds of sharp metal hits were heard loudly. I guess these were the wooden sticks on the metal shields. Also sounds of screams, mainly women and children, echoed.

"In 10 minutes time, a whistle was heard and all forces pulled out of the garden. Lines were reorganized. Extra troops added to Al Ogeil store side and in couple of minutes signal was given and they lashed back in.

"This time was fierce. The street lights were cut off. Screams never stopped; the most acute were children’s. My eyes couldn’t follow where or where to look. It was cold. It was dark. I am sure the garden was muddy after all this water. Soldiers were brutal. They were just beating anyone anywhere stepping over anyone and anything.

"Every 2 or 3 seconds a Refugee would be dragged out of the horror circle, beaten all the way out, another 3 – 4 soldiers will take grip of the Refugee so the first soldier could go back hunt another one. The soldiers receiving the Refugee beat him more up with batons on his back, bringing him down to his knee, slapping the back of his head, dragging him to a bus where other soldiers take care of the next stage. All the way through, obscenities could be heard.

"This happened to men and women equally. Sometimes when the victim was a woman I saw a child trying to hang to her leg as the soldiers drag the mother."

The UN today condemned the action, and even an Egyptian presidential spokesman expressed regret for the casualties. The regret notwithstanding, this action is directly in line with the government's standard procedure for cracking down on people who stand outside the social order, including political dissenters. Similar tactics of course were used to attack people at polling sites last month and earlier in 2005 during street protests against the war in Iraq.