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.

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