Thursday, February 03, 2011

Egypt Through the Rear-View Mirror

By William Fisher

One of the rituals associated with being a staffer for the President of the United States or a Cabinet officer is briefing your boss to be prepared to answer any question the press is likely to be asking.

Lots of smart people participate in these briefings. And if some upstart reporter asks a question no one anticipated, staffers have egg on their faces, big-time.

That’s what occurred to me as I listened to our top government officials, from the President on down, delivering their shaky, unconvincing and intentionally neutral responses to the most powerful calls for political change in Egypt’s history.

It was as if the notion of change had been invented yesterday and came as a complete surprise to the White House.

This in itself is pretty weird in a government that expends endless energy developing contingency plans for every eventuality imaginable to thinking people.

But evidently there was no “Plan B” for the Democracy Contingency. Judging by the Administration’s anemic responses, the possibility that demands for freedom of speech and assembly, a free press, and economic opportunity would ever develop to a point where they would have to be seriously addressed never occurred to our leaders.

I find this astonishing. It is not as if the dictatorial and cruel policies and practices of Hosni Mubarak’s security apparatus were new or unknown to official Washington. They have been a big part of the Egyptian political landscape for thirty years!

Occasionally, our government has even been obliged to respond publicly to some particularly egregious transgression of somebody’s human rights in the Land of the Pharaohs.

So it was in 2007, when Mubarak’s justice system sentenced a 22-year-old blogger to four years in prison. The blogger was a former college student, Abdel Kareem Nabil Suleiman.

Suleiman had been expelled from Al-Azhar University, Egypt's most powerful theological institution. His crime? Writing about the university's curriculum, Egypt's discrimination against minority religions, and religious extremism. He was charged with "spreading information disruptive of public order," with "incitement to hate Muslims" and "insulting the president."

The widely respected Reporters Without Borders called the sentence “a disgrace” and noted that it had come “almost three years ago to the day, [when] President Mubarak promised to abolish prison sentences for press offenses.”

That’s when I wrote the article below for Truthout. That article concluded:

“And where is George W. Bush on this issue? Just gullible, and allowing
himself to be snookered by the empty promises of one of the Middle East's
least-moderate autocrats? Or making it obvious to all that the Bush
administration values Egypt far more as an ally in its Global War on Terror than as a partner in its Global War for Democracy.”

Today, four years later, the initial reaction of the Obama Administration was like déjà vu all over again. Except that a lot more bloggers have been imprisoned since then.

This is what I wrote in 2007:

William Fisher | Let's Hear It for the Moderates
By William Fisher
Thursday 01 March 2007
The Bush administration is fond of labeling Middle East governments with
which it has friendly relations as "moderate Arab states." Egypt is perhaps the most prominent of these "moderates" - so moderate that it is, after Israel, the second-largest recipient of US development assistance and vast amounts of military accoutrements.

But can anyone find anything "moderate" about throwing a blogger in jail for four years?

The blogger is a former college student, Abdel Kareem Nabil Suleiman, 22,
who was expelled from Al-Azhar University - Egypt's most powerful theological institution - last spring. His crimes? He spoke out about the university's curriculum, Egypt's discrimination against minority religions, and religious extremism.

He was charged with "spreading information disruptive of public order," with "incitement to hate Muslims" and "insulting the president." He has not had consistent access to lawyers or to his family.

The widely respected Reporters Without Borders correctly pointed out, "This sentence is a disgrace. Almost three years ago to the day, President Mubarak promised to abolish prison sentences for press offenses. Suleiman's conviction and sentence is a message of intimidation to the rest of the Egyptian blogosphere, which had emerged in recent years as an effective bulwark against the regime's authoritarian excesses."

Only a couple of years ago, President Mubarak convinced George W. Bush that Egypt would be a strong ally in Bush's messianic mission of spreading democracy throughout the world. To people who know anything at all about world politics, Bush's judgment was about as reliable as his look into Vladimir Putin's heart, immediately followed by his assessment of the Russian president as a good man America could work with.

Because Egypt potentially plays a large role in furthering an Israeli-Palestinian agreement, the Bush administration has turned a blind eye to the rapid backward course Mubarak has pursued ever since he vowed to be Bush's buddy in spreading democracy in the Middle East.

True, Secretary of State Condi Rice did a lot of tut-tutting when Mubarak jailed the leader of his main opposition party, and she even postponed a visit to Cairo.

But, since then, it's been business as usual, with the Bush administration
continuing to describe this wonderful country, and its aging authoritarian
leader, as "moderate."

So what has happened to all the promises Mubarak made to our president? The aging autocrat took his first "significant" step toward democracy by introducing an amendment to the country's constitution. That measure, hailed by the Bush administration, purported to allow multiple candidates to run against him for the presidency for the first time.

Then came the fine print. The amendment placed severe restrictions on, for example, political parties that would be recognized as "legal" by the government. That eliminated a lot of the opposition.

Then the government proceeded with what almost everyone agrees were trumped-up charges against Ayman Nour, head of the leading opposition party. Mr. Nour is now in jail for forging signatures on his party's registration documents, even though his principal accuser has recanted this claim, which he now says was obtained under police duress.

Then came Egypt's parliamentary election, which Washington characterized as another important step on the road to democracy. That election was marked by widespread violence and voter disenfranchisement. Many people were killed and many more injured during the month-long election, and police cordoned off many polling stations to prevent people from voting.

Just to remind you, the violence flared after Egypt's Islamic movement, the
Muslim Brotherhood, won 88 seats, compared to the 15 it had held in the outgoing 454-member parliament. This happened despite the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood is banned from participating in elections, and its candidates are obliged to run as "independents."

Egyptian authorities say the security measures were taken to enable Egyptians to vote in an orderly manner. Right! The police brutality had nothing to do with trying to prevent the Brotherhood from making even larger gains.

"The elections, with their negative and positive aspects, will be a matter
of intensive study by all parties to derive lessons to develop future party and
democratic actions," Mubarak's spokesman, Suleiman Awwad, quoted the president as telling the lawmakers.

"Negative aspects should be answered strongly so that they will not be repeated."

Study by whom? Mubarak's National Democratic Party? The state-controlled media? Not likely. The United States? The United Nations? When pigs fly!

As always, the deconstruction of this election fell to local and international NGOs who monitor bad governance and abuses of human rights. Lamentably, their reports attracted little press attention anywhere.

And those in Egypt who wrote reports did so at great risk. The reason is
that NGOs there are strangled by a law severely restricting their activities,
and by the "extra-legal role" of the country's Security Services. As noted in a
report by Human Rights Watch, "Civil society groups in Egypt face severe
restrictions under the law governing nongovernmental organizations. In addition, the country's security services scrutinize and harass civil society activists even though the law does not accord them any such powers."

The HRW report documents numerous cases where the security services rejected NGO registrations, decided who could serve on NGO boards of directors, harassed NGO activists, and interfered with donations reaching the groups.

In today's Egypt, the Security Services make their own laws. For more than
20 years, the country has been kept under a "state of emergency," with draconian laws giving sweeping powers to Mubarak's security apparatus. More recently, their activities have been trumpeted as a key part of the "global war on terror."

I am all too familiar with the unbridled power of Egypt's security services.
I was living in Cairo during the multiple trials of Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim, an
Egyptian democracy activist. Dr. Ibrahim, then a professor of sociology at the American University in Cairo, headed a research and advocacy institute in Cairo that monitored elections, conducted voter education projects, and at times criticized the Egyptian government.

In the summer of 2000, he and 27 of his colleagues were arrested and tried.
All 28 defendants were found guilty and several were sent to jail. Ibrahim was sentenced to a seven-year term.

To America's great credit, the Clinton administration put extreme pressure
on the Egyptian authorities - even threatening to reduce US aid. Ibrahim's
conviction was finally overturned by the Egyptian Supreme Court, and he was ultimately acquitted of all charges in a second trial and released in 2003.

As forcefully underlined by Raja M. Kamal and Tom G. Palmer in a Washington Post op-ed article, "Egypt is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees the 'freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media' ... The posting of opinions on a student's personal blog hardly qualifies as a threat to national security, to the reputation of the president or to public order."

And where is George W. Bush on this issue? Just gullible, and allowing himself to be snookered by the empty promises of one of the Middle East's least-moderate autocrats? Or making it obvious to all that the Bush administration values Egypt far more as an ally in its Global War on Terror than as a partner in its Global War for Democracy.

Experts: Too Late for Mubarak Reforms

By William Fisher

Two of the nation’s most respected Middle East experts have a message for President Obama: The Mubarak Reform Train has left the station.

Or, in the words of one expert, Dr. Michele Dunne, editor of The Arab Bulletin at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, “Pulling punches now will only continue past policy errors and escalate the costs to U.S. interests.”

Dr. Dunne, a former specialist on Middle East affairs for the U.S. Department of State, the White House, and the National Security Council, believes the time for a Mubarak-led “reform” is past. And she is urging the Obama Administration to recognize that that train has left the station.

She says, “One of the most striking features of recent U.S. policy toward the Middle East has been that it often appeared out of touch with current realities to the point of being anachronistic -- almost quaint.

“The dogged push for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, for example, flew in the face of truths including the facts that Prime Minister Netanyahu had no interest in reaching an agreement and Palestinian President Abbas was so weakened by the Fatah-Hamas rift that he would be unable to reach an agreement even if a good offer were put on the table.

“The most recent example of this unreality is U.S. calls for ‘reform’ and ‘national dialogue’ in Egypt in response to the escalating uprising,” she says.

“Reform?” she asks, then answers:

“Sorry, the time to call for that was a year ago, five years ago, ten years ago. Egyptians no longer want President Mubarak to reform; they simply want no more Mubaraks. Top-down political reform is now over in Egypt. In its place we are seeing bottom-up change, with all its many risks.”

Dr. Dunne asks how Egyptians went from demanding gradual, peaceful, political reform to wanting to overthrow their leader by whatever means possible?

“It did not happen overnight. Rather, over the last five years the idea of reform became discredited as Mubarak and his inner circle cynically manipulated the concept to enable their own particular brand of crony capitalism while staving off improvements in civil liberties or a real expansion of political contestation,” she says.

Mubarak allowed some breathing room in the 2005 parliamentary elections, only to follow them with a harsh crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and on Ayman Nour, who dared to run a real campaign against him, Dunne says, adding:

“Mubarak delivered on his 2005 pledge to sponsor constitutional reforms in an extremely damaging manner in 2007, actually managing to push through amendments that significantly impaired the political and human rights of his citizens even further.”

In fact, she says, “Mubarak succeeded in discrediting not only the idea of reform but also that of formal political processes altogether. He managed to damage not only the long-co-opted legal opposition parties but also to diminish the relevance of oppressed movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood.”

In the last few years, she continues, “it has been clear that young Egyptians were no longer putting their faith in such opposition groups but rather forming broader, more amorphous movements that had no intention of participating in corrupt formal politics.”

Dr. Dunne says the “final straw” was perhaps “the rigged parliamentary elections in November 2010, when the ruling National Democratic Party used every form of corruption and political manipulation to shutout nearly all opposition candidates and then added insult to injury by crowing about how the party’s successful policies had won the support of the voters.”

By the beginning of December 2010, the tinder for a conflagration had become very dry indeed; and then a young man in far off Tunisia lit a match, she says.

“And what was the United States doing all this time when it could have been trying more sincerely to persuade Mubarak to carry out reforms—or at least to show the Egyptian public that it was on the side of their legitimate demands?” she asks.

For a brief time, she says, from 2002 to 2005, “the administration of President George W. Bush rather persistently raised with Mubarak the need for democratic reform and implied that the U.S.-Egyptian relationship would stay close only if Mubarak heeded calls from Egyptian civil society and opposition groups for greater political freedoms and respect for human rights, as well as economic reforms needed to increase prosperity.”

The Bush administration, she recalls, “went as far as to impose some penalties on Mubarak, withdrawing a pledge of over $130 million in supplemental assistance in 2003 and then cutting off free trade talks in early 2006 in reaction to repressive measures Mubarak took against peaceful dissidents.”

But in early 2006, she recalls, “the Bush administration backed off pressing Mubarak, having seen few fruits from its efforts and facing escalating crises in Palestine and Iraq. Over the next two years, Bush annoyed Mubarak repeatedly by speaking up for democracy and human rights and his administration increased its spending on democracy programs in Egypt, but the wind had clearly gone out of the sails of the Freedom Agenda.”

The result was that “Mubarak carried out repressive measures and excluded opposition from local elections with no real consequences in his relations with the United States,” she says.

The Obama administration, she says, “further rolled back U.S. support for democracy in Egypt in an ill-advised attempt to restore the sweetness to relations with Mubarak in early 2009 by dropping all references to human rights or democracy in statements on Egypt and revising democracy assistance policies to appease him.”

The Obama administration “gradually went from 0 to 30 miles per hour in developing its rhetoric on how human rights and democracy fit in foreign policy over the next two years. Officials, including Obama, began to raise with Mubarak the need to take certain steps, such as lifting the state of emergency under which Egypt has been governed since 1981 and allowing domestic monitors and international observers access to elections. But Mubarak stiffed Obama completely and the U.S. administration, still wanting to keep a positive and polite relationship, issued some mildly critical public statements and wrung its hands in private about how to handle the issues. But clearly the United States was far behind the curve of what was happening in Egypt.”

And now? Dr. Dunne queries. “U.S. officials are having to dance pretty fast to come up with rhetoric and policies to show that they supported the legitimate demands of Egyptian citizens all along and are fully on the side of democratization in Egypt. It will not be easy, because the bad news is that Egyptians followed U.S. policy on these questions closely all along and are well aware of how inconsistent, ineffective, and unserious the United States was about promoting real reform—back in the days when it was still possible.”

For Dr. Dunne, the bottom line is: “If the Obama administration wants to show that it is serious about respecting political freedom and human rights, it should shift gears on Egypt quickly. It should press ahead with the current U.S. call for an orderly transition to democratic presidential and parliamentary elections, but it stop implying that it envisions Mubarak (or his unpopular new vice president) remaining in office.”

“The United States should privately encourage the Egyptian government to begin negotiations immediately with the opposition committee headed by Mohamed ElBaradei. And it should say privately and publicly that it will suspend all U.S. assistance should the Egyptian government fail to negotiate a transition or resort to violence against the protestors. Pulling punches now will only continue past policy errors and escalate the costs to U.S. interests.”

Among other human rights advocates now speaking out against effort to salvage a Mubarak government, is Neil Hicks, International Policy Advisor at Human Rights First, a prominent advocacy organization.

Hicks is brutally frank in his message to President Obama. “The Obama administration must signal that it has turned the page from the old policy of toleration of oppression by its Egyptian ally in the name of stability. As well as being contrary to principles of universal human rights and democracy which the administration has pledged to uphold everywhere, recent events in Tunisia and now in Egypt have shown that repression does not bring stability.”

He adds, “Events have escalated in Egypt to the point that the government has imposed a nationwide curfew and called the army on to the streets. In response, the Obama Administration has settled on a somewhat simple message in its statements about the mounting crisis – a set of talking points that Human Rights First believes should be strengthened to specifically condemn this excessive use of force by the Egyptian security forces and make clear that it views such tactics as counterproductive.”

Hicks says, “The State Department and White House have urged the Egyptian government to respect the basic rights to freedom of expression and assembly of the protesters, to turn on the Internet and restore access to social networking sites. President Obama and other officials have also called for restraint and non-violence from government forces and protesters, but that does not go far enough.”

But, he adds, “The situation in Egypt is serious and it demands a serious response – one that makes clear that the United States will not tolerate government use of force and unwarranted censorship to silence dissidents.”

According to Human Rights First, the Obama Administration must recognize that “almost all of the violence occurring in Egypt is coming from the side of the government. Riot police have repeatedly used tear gas, rubber bullets, batons and water cannon against peaceful demonstrators throughout the week. Moreover, uniformed riot police are supplemented by plain clothed thugs armed with truncheons and iron bars who randomly assault protesters. Journalists have been among the victims of police violence.”

Hicks noted that the lack of democracy in Egypt, exemplified by the brazenly rigged parliamentary elections held at the end of 2010, “is one of the root causes of the unrest in Egypt.”

In response, Hicks says that the U.S. government “should now call on the Egyptian authorities to commit to implementing reforms necessary to permit free and fair elections well in advance of presidential elections scheduled for the fall of this year, and to holding new parliamentary elections in an atmosphere of transparency and basic fairness that was absent from last year’s vote.”

He added that these include: granting access to independent international election monitors; allowing independent Egyptian election monitors to carry out their activities free from obstruction and interference; restoring the role of the Egyptian judiciary in supervising the elections and amending the law to remove restrictions on opposition candidates standing as candidates.

Hicks concluded, “The Obama administration must signal that it has turned the page from the old policy of toleration of oppression by its Egyptian ally in the name of stability. As well as being contrary to principles of universal human rights and democracy which the administration has pledged to uphold everywhere, recent events in Tunisia and now in Egypt have shown that repression does not bring stability.”

Rights Group’s Message to Mubarak (and Successor)

By William Fisher

In a new report on torture, started considerably before Egypt’s current paroxysms, Human Rights Watch excoriates the Mubarak regime and demands fundamental changes that a transition government would do well to embrace.

The report -- "’Work on Him Until He Confesses': Impunity for Torture in
Egypt," -- documents how President Hosni Mubarak's government “implicitly condones police abuse by failing to ensure that law enforcement officials accused of torture are investigated and criminally prosecuted, leaving victims without a remedy.”

In a message directed both to the tottering regime of 30-year President Hosni Mubarak and whatever transition or national unity government takes over if Mubarak resigns, the message of Human Rights Watch (HRW) is:

"Egyptians deserve a clean break from the incredibly entrenched practice of
torture," said Joe Stork, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa
Division at HRW.

"The Egyptian government's foul record on this issue is a huge part of what is still bringing crowds onto the streets today," he said.

The grisly 95-page report opens with a look-back to June 2010. During a demonstration in Alexandria, protesters held pictures of 28-year-old Khaled Said, who was dragged out of a public Internet café by two undercover police officers, who beat him to death on the streets of Alexandria.

The event dominated headlines and set off demonstrations across the country. The local prosecutor initially closed an investigation and ordered Said's burial, but escalating public protests prompted the Public Prosecutor to reopen the investigation and refer it to court.

While the incident is but one of many similar abuses, the Said killing was so egregious – and so broadly publicized -- that many observers see it and what it led to as some of the definitive catalysts for the current demonstrations.

News of Said’s killing was carried not only by newspapers, but perhaps more significantly, via Twitter and Facebook messages linking potential demonstrators with one another.

"We Are All Khaled Said" is the name of the Facebook group that helped initiate the mass demonstrations on January 25, 2011.

Joe Stork, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa Division – who has been live blogging from Cairo since the demonstrations began – said, “Egyptians deserve a clean break from the incredibly entrenched practice of torture. The Egyptian government's foul record on this issue is a huge part of what is still bringing crowds onto the streets today.”

The report says, “Torture is an endemic problem in Egypt and ending police abuse has been a driving element behind the massive popular demonstrations that swept Egypt over the past week.”

“Prosecuting torture and ending the emergency laws that enable a culture of impunity for the security forces should be a priority for the Egyptian government,” the report said.

It urges officials to undertake immediate legal, structural, and political reforms to ensure that the judicial system holds perpetrators of torture accountable and deters future abuse. It examines dozens of cases of torture and death in custody for which victims or their families instituted legal proceedings by filing a complaint.

The vast majority of torture complaints never reach court because of police
intimidation of victims and witnesses who file complaints, an inadequate legal framework, and delays in referring victims for medical examination,
the report said, adding:

“Another factor is that police from the same unit as the alleged torturer are responsible for gathering evidence and summoning witnesses.”

HRW says, “Said's case was an exception, one of very few in which media coverage and public outrage prompted senior members of the Public Prosecutor's office to become involved, which ensures a speedy and full investigation.”

The report notes that in November 2009, the government published statistics showing that between 2006 and 2009, Egyptian courts had sentenced only six police officers for torture and inhumane treatment, despite hundreds of complaints about torture and deaths in custody.”

In July 2010 an Alexandria appeals court confirmed a five-year sentence against a seventh officer, the report says.

HRW’s Stork adds, "In a country where torture remains a serious and systemic problem, the conviction of a mere seven police officers over four years reflects a huge disconnect from reality and leaves hundreds of victims and families without justice."

The report found that “law enforcement officers routinely and deliberately use torture and ill-treatment -- in ordinary criminal cases as well as with political dissidents and security detainees -- to coerce confessions, extract other information, or simply to punish detainees.”

The report presents numerous verified case histories. Here is one of them:

Ahmad Abd al-Mo'ez Basha, a 22-year-old driver in Imbaba, Cairo, told HRW how officers arrested him at his home in July 2010:

“They took me to Imbaba police station and put me in a room by myself. Two officers came in and told me to confess. I asked, ‘What to?’ They answered, ‘Confess to the theft.’ The head of the Criminal Investigations unit said, ‘Work on him until he confesses.’

“They handcuffed my hands in front of me and hung me from the door for more than two hours. They had whips and hit me on the legs, on the bottom of my feet, and on my back. When they took me down, they brought a black electric device and applied electro-shocks four or five times to my arms until they started smoking. All of this time they kept saying, ‘You have to confess’.

“The next morning they beat me again and whipped me with the cable on my back and on my shoulders. I fainted after three hours of the beating.”

“Impunity for torture is especially acute with State Security Investigations
(SSI), the Interior Ministry department responsible for monitoring political
dissents, HRW said. The SSI routinely engages in enforced disappearances, detaining suspects in its facilities for extended periods, concealing the fact that it is holding them or refusing to provide their whereabouts and denying detainees contact with lawyers, family, or doctors,” the report charges.

It notes that SSI facilities are not lawful places of detention: “Egyptian law prohibits detention in facilities other than recognized prisons and police stations.” The government denies that the SSI detains suspects at its sites - where suspects often face torture - despite considerable testimony to the contrary.

No SSI officer has ever been convicted for torture, although in at least three
cases officers have appeared before a court. One former SSI detainee and Muslim Brotherhood member, Nasr al-Sayed Hassan Nasr, told Human Rights Watch of his 60-day detention by SSI in 2010, during which he says he was blindfolded the entire time:

“They beat me with a shoe across the face. They kicked me in the testicles so that I'd fall to the ground. Once on the floor they used electro-shocks to make me stand up and then would kick me again in the testicles. At one point the officer tried to strangle me. The officer would call the guards and say, ‘By four o'clock I want you to bring Nasr's wife and daughters here and strip them in front of him’.”

“They took photographs of me while I was naked and being tortured and threatened to publish them. Victims and families of victims who had made complaints of torture consistently told Human Rights Watch that police officials tried to intimidate them to withdraw their complaint or to settle out of court,” the report says.

Egypt's legal framework fails to criminalize torture fully in line with
international law, another factor contributing to impunity, Human Rights Watch said.

The group called on the European Union and United States to speak out publicly against torture in Egypt, as well as about the government's failure to suppress these practices and punish those responsible.

"Police abuse becomes commonplace when there is effective impunity for law enforcement officers and their superiors," HRW’s Stork said. "That's one reason why so many people took to the streets this past week demanding an end to police abuses. Egypt needs to seriously confront the crime of torture, starting with the faulty investigation process, to send a strong signal that torturers will be held accountable."

As a result of incidents such as these – led by the beating death of Khaled Said -- throughout June and July 2010 hundreds of Egyptians took to the streets in a rare wave of protests to voice their anger at the police, whom witnesses accused of publicly murdering Said.

Some of these protests were loud and angry, with demonstrators demanding a full investigation into Said's death on June 6, and the prosecution of all those they held responsible, including the interior minister. In one particular event, hundreds of mourners dressed in black lined the Alexandrian coast in Said's memory, staring silently out to sea.

The Khaled Said case-including gruesome pictures of Said's battered body that soon appeared on social networking websites-shook and outraged many in Egypt, where an emergency law grants wide powers to police and security force.

Some citizens could identify with Said as victims of police brutality, while many young people could understand the experience of being randomly accosted by police in an internet café – public internet cafés are subject to surveillance and require a national ID to enter.

An initial attempt by authorities to cover up police culpability only fueled
public anger. According to Egyptian lawyers and domestic and international human rights groups, which have extensively documented the practice of torture in Egypt, law enforcement officials have used torture and ill-treatment on a widespread, deliberate, and systematic basis over the past two decades to glean confessions and information, or to punish detainees.

The report finds that the government is failing miserably to provide victims of torture and ill-treatment effective remedy, or to deter such abuses from
occurring in the future. Impunity prevails with regard to torture and
ill-treatment, since those guilty of such abuses having little expectation or
reason to fear they will be held to account.

The result is an epidemic of habitual, widespread, and deliberate torture perpetrated on a regular basis by security forces against political dissidents, Islamists allegedly engaged in terrorist activity, and ordinary citizens suspected of links to criminal activity or who simply look suspicious.

HRW urged the government of Egypt – and whoever heads it – to adopt a series of recommendations. For example:

The Ministry of Interior should immediately end the illegal practice of enforced disappearance and detention in SSI offices, and allow prosecutors to conduct unannounced visits to such sites to verify compliance. The Ministry should also announce it will cooperate fully with prosecutors in investigating and prosecuting those allegedly responsible for torture and ill-treatment.

The government should also amend the penal code to bring the definition of torture in line with international law, and make penalties for torture and ill-treatment commensurate with the seriousness of the crime.

The Office of the Public Prosecutor should order all prosecutors to
investigate credible allegations of torture and ill-treatment, even in the
absence of a formal complaint.

Prosecutors should conduct these investigations promptly, impartially, and thoroughly, ensuring that all those allegedly responsible, including superiors, are investigated. Forensic medical examinations should occur as soon as possible.

The government should also amend the Code of Criminal Procedure to allow victims of police abuse to file criminal suits against those responsible. It is vital that an independent body be established to accept, investigate, and pursue complaints of abuse by law enforcement officers.

Reinstating the Office of the Investigative Judge with a mandate to investigate abuse complaints would give the system greater independence, as would establishing a judicial police force to gather relevant material evidence and work with police.

Alleged abusers should not gather evidence, or interact with complainants and witnesses. Taking meaningful steps to investigate, prosecute and punish torturers would demonstrate the government's political will to end the practice and thus comply with its obligations under Egyptian and international law.

The European Union (EU) and United States, which have publicly declared their commitment to upholding human rights in their foreign relations, should speak out publicly against torture in Egypt, as well as the government's failure to prohibit and suppress these practices and punish those responsible.

The report reiterates that governments are strictly obligated by law not to return anyone to countries where there is a risk of torture or inhuman or degrading treatment. It also calls upon governments “to make clear to the Egyptian government that torture decreases Egypt's value as a partner in counterterrorism because the information it obtains through torture is both unreliable and inadmissible in a court of law.”

There are a number of reasons why most torture cases do not reach court. These include Egypt's inadequate legal framework, which does not properly criminalize torture or provide sufficiently strong penalties; prosecutorial discretion to close investigations; intimidation of victims and witnesses; delays and poor quality of forensic medical examination; conflicts of interest in relying on the police for evidence; drawn out investigations; failure to conduct impartial investigations; and impunity for state security officers.