Monday, February 28, 2011

Egypt: Army Attacks Pro-Democracy Demonstrators; Later Apologizes

By William Fisher

As press attention shifted away from Egypt in the wake of the unanimous vote of the UN Security Council to impose sanctions on Libya's leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi and his cronies, Egypt was experiencing developments that some observers viewed with alarm while others downplayed as an “entirely predictable dynamic” we can “expect to see” in other countries undergoing similar changes.

These developments included brutal beatings of peaceful demonstrators in Tahrir Square by members of the military. The Army has since apologized for the abuse of peaceful demonstrators, but it remains unclear why the army attacked these citizens in the first place.

The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information reported that “hundreds of thousands” of Egyptians demonstrated in Tahrir Square on Friday in protest the continuation of Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik in office. The group said the protestors demanded the dissolution of the state security apparatus and the release prisoners of conscience.

Despite continued cheers in support of the army, army units assaulted the protesters, beating and chasing them on the streets of Cairo using electric batons that led to many casualties, the organization charged.

One of the abused demonstrators, whose name is being withheld for his safety, blogged the following first hand account of what occurred:

“We were a little less than 150 people [in Tahrir Square] that night [February 25]. At around 11:30 in the evening of the 25th of February, army soldiers formed a cordon around us without violations; one of my friends thinks this might have been their way of kettling us and making sure our numbers don’t grow around the ministerial cabinet. They dismantled their human cordon at 15 minutes past midnight of the 26th of February. At around that time we started hearing news of the sit-in in Tahrir being violently dispersed. And at around 1:30 am that very night, the army started using electric batons to disperse the sit-in and of-course we ran. They continued to push, beat and kick at us, until they managed to disperse us.

“And then I was arrested…As I ran, I came across a fallen protestor, and stopped to check on him. An officer grabbed me and started to push and beat at me and I said to him “Don’t hit! Just arrest me!” And he replied “Come here ya ruh ummak,” and they pulled me into a garage in the ministerial cabinet; and this is where the physical and moral torture began.

“In the ministerial cabinet’s garage…I was shocked at the numbers of army personnel beating up protestors in the garage. At first I thought these must have been thugs, but before I had a chance to finish the thought, I was pulled very roughly and ordered to squat on the ground. With that they started to kick at every part of my body; I tried to cover my face to protect it, but one of the officers pulled my arm away and stepped on my face pushing it to the ground, while they tied my hands behind my back. They – Lieutenants, First Lieutenants and a row of officers and soldiers -- then proceeded to kick at my face as if my head were a soccer-ball.

“Others around me were much worse off. One was stripped bare in the cold and sprayed with water and beaten, while another was beaten until his shoulder was dislocated, while others were electrocuted with the electric batons. One protestor called out to declare he had a heart condition; and they shouted back at him to ask what he was doing in a protest if he had such a condition, as they proceeded to pull his hand away from his heart, and kick him where it was.

“Twice we heard what sounded like a high-ranking officer giving an order to end the beating “No one hit any of them anymore!”. But as soon as he would leave, the beating would start again; it was difficult to tell if they really weren’t following orders, or if the whole thing was just theatrical. For the beating never ceased.

“What was said in the Garage…What was worse than the beating and the insults, were the accusations that the officers and military personnel were throwing at us while we were in there. When I first got in they played the old reel of accusations related to treachery and our being spies; I could even hear an officer shout as he beat a protestor “And you’re getting 50 Euros to insult president Mubarak ya ruh ummak?!”.

“And while we were all hearing variations of this, each of us was specifically asked to say “Long live Hosni Mubarak”, and those who refused got a fresh course of beating. It was clear to us that they didn’t think they were dealing with thugs, but believed they were dealing with paid security threats.

“And one of the personal violations that I could note is their occasional calling out that “We’re in Abu Ghareeb [Abu Ghraib] here,” as they piled protestors un-top of each other and beat them.”

It remained unclear why the government soldiers assaulted the demonstrators. The Military has apologized for the beatings, according to Muhammed Tolba, Executive Secretary of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies.
The apology is confirmed by one of those who was abused.

In his blog, he refers to “the kind treatment we received from the unit 28 military prosecution, as well as the respect and grace with which we were treated on the morning of the 26th of February when we were transferred to the military police administration. To be honest the Major General running the military police administration, and fellow officers and individuals were all very generous, and treated us like guests and not criminals.”

And he concludes, “And an extra thanks to the Major General for paying special attention to our cases – those who were beaten and assaulted the dawn of that very day – and taking me and a friend to Kobry El Qubba hospital in the company of an Officer to help with the ex-rays and check-ups and ensure our safety himself. They sent the rest back to Tahrir in a microbus at the same time.”

The assault on the Tahrir Square demonstrators came a few hours after Prime Minister Shafik issued instructions to cut a TV show by because guests of the show “criticized Shafiq and expressed solidarity with public demands to dismiss the prime minister.”

The group said that yesterday’s assault by the army “coincided with the return of police forces to practice repression, police forces assaulted thousands of peaceful demonstrators.” They added that “police used tear gas and batons.”

“The army assault on protestors calls for a clear apology from the army. To make [up] for this insult, the army must expel Ahmed Shafik and all the ministers loyal to Mubarak: Mahmoud Wagdy and Ahmed Aboul Gheit as well as dissolution of the state security department and prosecuting all its officers.”

The Network said, “The military’s insistence on keeping of the symbols deposed dictator Hosni Mubarak, and the attack on demonstrators, calls for an immediate apology to the Egyptian people and dismissing Shafik immediately.”

It added, “The Egyptians who made a revolution for their right to freedom and democracy, will not give up on deposing all symbols of dictatorship, starting with the dismissal of Shafik, the enemy of the people and enemy of freedom of the press, and reaching to dissolve state security and to prosecute all its officers, interior minister Mahmoud Wagdy on top.”

“The military has to know that there is no turning back. This revolution has sacrificed hundreds of martyrs for freedom and the Egyptians will not be give up by any force their the claim for a democratic civilian government clean of all symbols of dictatorship,” the Network added.

According to Chip Pitts, a long-time human rights defender and law lecturer at Stanford University, “The situation remains very fraught and uncertain, and I’m with the protesters. The government must move sooner rather than later to institutionalize truly new and democratic civilian rule.”

But he denied the Army’s action was a step backward. He told The Public Record, “I believe that this isn’t necessarily a regression, but is rather the entirely predictable dynamic arising as a result of the tumultuous changes now taking place in Egypt, the Middle East and North Africa (and, I hope, elsewhere), and we can expect to see them in the other countries undergoing change as well.”

He added, “The continued resort to repression by Shafik and the remnants of the Mubarak regime represents their attempt to firmly manage and even co-opt the reform process through the same measures that have worked for decades. Thanks to the persistent courage of the protesters and the Egyptian people, those measures will work no longer and will only increase the risks that Shafik and his ilk will be held personally accountable for human rights violations if they don’t step forward fully onto the right side of this historic movement of peoples.”

The Arabic Network also said that the ministry of interior suppressed peaceful demonstrators in Mansoura on the same day.

It said, “The consecutive attacks on freedom of expression and media freedoms in Egypt during the past few days are similar to those of the days of police repression before January 25th . The attempts of Shafik to impose himself as a guest on a popular show despite the refusal of the producer is an unacceptable violation of freedom of expression and a breach to principles and objectives of the revolution.”

“We do not know the reasons for the insistence of the military council on keeping Shafik who was appointed by the deposed dictator despite his participation in crimes against the revolution of January 25 as PM. His government hired thugs to attack protesters with petrol bombs, camels and bladed weapons.”

Shafik is the interim Prime Minister of Egypt. He was appointed Prime Minister by then-president Hosni Mubarak on January 29, 2011 in response to the 2011 Egyptian protests.

After a career as a fighter pilot, squadron, wing and base commander, he served as the commander of the Egyptian Air Force from 1996–2002, and was nominated in 2002 to become the Egyptian Minister for Civil Aviation.

All the members of the Supreme Military Council currently governing Egypt owe their appointments to Mubarak. In addition, many Mubarak appointees are still in place in senior posts.

Yesterday, Saturday, was also the day when the committee appointed to amend several articles of the Egyptian constitution was to have turned its work over to the Supreme Council.

The articles were to be amended to make it easier to form and register political parties, enter candidates in political contests, and ensure fair and free elections in the future.