Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Morocco and Turkey: Templates for MidEast Democracy?

By William Fisher

Such is the state of U.S. cable news and most other traditional media that when two big stories happen at the same time the rest of the world might just as well not exist.

Journalists and their editors are currently preoccupied with Libya and Japan, one caused by man-made hubris, the other triggered by natural disasters.

But as important as these stories undoubtedly are, there are other important events taking place and are largely going uncovered or under-covered by the so-called mainstream media.

So the American public might be forgiven if it didn’t know that dictators in Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and other Middle East autocracies are banning demonstrations, violently breaking up gathering of protesters, and using paid mercenaries, snipers and its own security services to kill its own people.

Yemen is important to the U.S. because it is the home of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula; US forces work with the Yemeni government to locate and snuff out the terrorists.

Bahrain is important to the U.S. because it is important to Saudi Arabia, a supplier of oil. Sunni Bahrain, just down the causeway from Sunni Saudi Arabia, sent in 2,000 troops to help Bahraini forces to help the king hang on to power. Bahrain and the Saudis are worried about the restiveness among the country’s Shia majority, and that majority, largely in the Eastern part of the tiny country, finding common cause with Saudi’s Shias, just across the bay. There have been a number of deaths in the past few days perpetrated by government soldiers and police.

In Saudi Arabia itself, the country’s aging king is attempting to “buy off” the protesters by sinking huge amounts of money into job-creating and training programs, plus giving each Saudi family a substantial cash gift.

In Syria, often thought to be the least likely target of pro-democracy forces because of the iron grip of President Basher al-Asad, demonstrations have grown larger and larger over the past few days and the Syrian military and police are accused of killing many demonstrators. Syria is said to be important to the U.S. because of its prospective role in peace talks with Israel.

And while this enormous ferment is going on, the United States is remaining virtually mute because it says these countries share strategic interests with Washington. Yemen holds the key to the defeat of Al Qaeda. The U.S. Fifth Fleet is housed in Bahrain. Saudi Arabia provides the U.S. with some 12 per cent of its oil; and countries in its sphere of influence account for a market share many times 12 per cent.

Libya is an oil-producer too. But it is ranked 17th in terms of world oil production and produces only about two per cent of world supply. Its oil is sold largely into Europe. Arguably it has zero strategic interest to the U.S., thus making it far easier to decide to proceed with the UN-endorsed, multi-nation “no fly” program on “humanitarian grounds.”

You may have seen snippets of reports on all these happenings during last week or so, and a lot more than snippets if you were watching Al Jazeera or the Real News Network via McClatchy Newspapers.

But what you almost certainly did not see or read much about is what might qualify as “good news” in the Middle East and North Africa.

Some of that hopeful news concerns Morocco. In the March 18 issue of David Avital and David Halperin report that Morocco’s King Mohammed VI has established “a foundation for reform.”

Avital and Halperin recommend that the U.S. look to Morocco as a template. “While seeking to curb extremists from taking advantage of the unrest, Washington must change its habit of blindly supporting friendly autocrats, who favor stability over freedom. The U.S. must also work with its regional allies on reforms to create a blueprint for the model modern
Muslim state.”

The authors acknowledge that the Moroccan “model has yet to emerge.” Avital is an executive committee member of Israel Policy Forum. Halperin is a policy analyst at Israel Policy Forum and the Center for American Progress.

Morocco’s progress in recent years, they say, has been significant. “Since
becoming king in 1999, Mohammed VI broke away from his father’s brutal
policies during the ‘Years of Lead’ and immediately began a series of
liberalizing reforms.”

These include permitting the return of political exiles, holding legislative elections, enhancing investing to alleviate poverty, modifying the criminal code and setting up the first truth and reconciliation commission in the Arab world to help mend the wounds of the past and set a new course, they write.

An article by Intissar Fakir, a special assistant to the Deputy President of the National Endowment for Democracy, published in the Arab Reform Bulletin, notes that King Mohammed VI’s March 9 pledge to sponsor broad constitutional reforms following moderately-sized protests on February 20 distinguishes him from other leaders in the region, most of whom have “offered too little in terms of reforms and offered them too late in the process of uprisings to make a difference. On the surface, King Mohammed’s proposed reforms are significant.”

But the lack of specifics about the depth of these reforms creates doubt in view of past experiences, the article says, adding:

“King Mohammed announced in a televised speech a process of constitutional change that will be put to a popular referendum. Proposed reforms would increase the parliament’s powers in unspecified ways, create a more independent judiciary, and grant elected officials executive powers at the provincial and local level within a decentralization scheme first introduced in 2010.

“Decentralization will redistribute power from an appointed governor to new regional representatives to be elected by the people. Under the reforms, the prime minister would have greater executive powers, and the revised constitution would contain greater assurances of political and civil liberties and human rights.

“A commission headed by constitutional law expert Abdelatif Mennouni is tasked with consulting with representatives of labor unions, political parties, civil society, and other interest groups to discuss the scope of these reforms over the coming months.

“The 18-member commission will include representatives from professional syndicates and human rights groups (such as Amina Bouayach of the Moroccan Organization of Human Rights), political activists, judges, as well as technocrats such as Omar Izziman and Lahcen Oulhaj (who represents Amazigh/Berber interests). The committee’s recommendations will be reviewed in June and then put to a national referendum. The king indicated that as soon as these reforms are ratified, they will be implemented.”

But despite the reform-minded agenda of its King, Human Rights Watch has reported that Morocco's security forces have sometimes dispersed large demonstrations “with considerable violence.”

But today (Feb. 20), says Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, “the security forces allowed Moroccan citizens to march peacefully to demand profound changes in how their country is governed.”

“Thousands of Moroccans in cities across the country demonstrated in favor of political reform on February 20, 2011. Mostly peaceful demonstrations and marches took place in towns and villages largely without interference from police, who in some areas were barely in evidence,” she said.

HRW said Morocco's demonstrators encountered none of the deadly force utilized by the security forces against protesters in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Bahrain, and Yemen.

“The partnership between the United States, Morocco and the Moroccan people,” Burns said, “is a very high priority for President Obama and Secretary Clinton. It’s never been more important than at this moment.”

Seizing this moment requires the United States to work with Morocco on a blueprint for systematic political and economic reforms that proactively respond to the region’s spreading unrest. A U.S. effort to help Morocco achieve a balance between these reforms and reverence for its own history and religious tradition would be a crucial symbol for the developing Middle East — and its growing ties with the West, HRW says.

Even more important, a U.S.-supported program to encourage greater media freedom, economic development and open political debate could jumpstart a path for Morocco to realize its leadership as a model for re-shaping the Arab world.

Others have suggested that Turkey offers a more reliable template for real change in the Middle East because, while it is still a work in progress, many of its reforms have come to fruition as a result of the governance process.

On the other hand, according to HRW, “Well-founded concerns persist in Turkey about politically motivated prosecutions. Prosecutors and judges have pursued unwarranted cases against journalists and editors, human rights defenders, individuals participating in demonstrations, and those engaged in legal pro-Kurdish political activity.”

The trial of Pınar Selek is an example. It is what HRW calls “a perversion of the criminal justice system and abuse of due process. The pursuit of this case for 12 years violates the most basic requirements for a fair trial. These baseless charges should be dropped once and for all.”

According to Emma Sinclair-Webb, Turkey researcher at Human Rights Watch. (Istanbul), “The third attempt to convict the human rights activist and writer Pınar Selek on allegations that she was involved in a 1998 deadly explosion is a travesty of justice.”

Here’s the background: In 1998, Selek, then 27, had been working on a street art project in Istanbul when she was arrested. A 19-year-old youth, Abdülmecit Öztürk, was also arrested. The case against them was based on the repeatedly contested claim that the explosion was caused by a bombing and on an allegation of Selek's guilt made by Öztürk during interrogation. He later retracted his allegation in court, saying he had been coerced into making the accusation under torture by police. Selek also alleges she was severely tortured in police custody.

On February 9, 2011, Selek was scheduled to stand trial for her alleged involvement in a 1998 explosion in Istanbul's Spice Bazaar that killed seven people and injured more than 100. It is the third attempt to convict her for carrying out a lethal bombing, despite substantial evidence that there was no bombing and that the explosion was the result of a gas leak.

The court where the third round of this trial will be held, Istanbul Heavy Penal Court No. 12, has acquitted Selek and her former co-defendant twice on the same charges, in 2006 and 2008. The prosecutor appealed each time.

Despite the evidence from multiple expert bodies showing that the explosion was caused by a gas leak, Turkey's top court of appeal, the Court of Cassation, ordered her retrial again on February 9, 2010, saying that the explosion was a bombing she carried out on behalf of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). Selek's co-defendant, who later testified that he did not know her, had originally made a false confession under police torture, implicating Selek. While he was acquitted of all charges, and his acquittal upheld, the inadmissible evidence in the form of this confession remains the sole basis of the case against Selek.

The Court of Cassation's most recent ruling calling for the third trial said that Selek should be retried under article 125 of the previous Turkish Penal Code (law no. 765), which deals with crimes against the integrity of the state, including armed attacks by outlawed separatist groups. She would face a sentence of aggravated life imprisonment, a life sentence without the possibility of release.

Selek is a sociologist who has campaigned and written extensively on human rights issues in Turkey, including issues of gender, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights as well as Kurdish and other minority rights. Her trial is one of the most striking instances of this pattern of unfair trials that appear politically motivated, Human Rights Watch said.

"The 12-year-long campaign to convict Selek for something that the evidence has repeatedly demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that she could not have done, shows that Turkey has a long way to go toward upholding fair trial standards and ensuring judicial independence," Sinclair-Webb said.

Police reports initially discounted a bombing and suggested the explosion was caused by a gas leakage. While the prosecutor who indicted Selek and Öztürk labeled the explosion a bombing, this was later refuted by three separate reports from experts in different university departments. Autopsy reports from the Forensic Medical Institute's First Special Department and later its General Board did not find any evidence that the deaths were caused by a bombing.

When Öztürk was acquitted on all charges, which the Court of Cassation upheld, the original trial court ruled that his statement was inadmissible as evidence against Selek. No other evidence, testimonial or forensic, was ever offered to establish any link between Selek and the explosion.

A written statement purportedly made by Öztürk's aunt in which she allegedly identified Selek as having visited her home was shown to have been fabricated when it became clear in court that his aunt spoke only Kurdish, not Turkish, and she testified that the police had forced her to sign a paper whose contents she did not know. In court, both Öztürk and his aunt stated that they had never even met Selek.

I have another misgiving about Turkey as a template for Middle East democracy. It is that country’s absurd treatment of the Orthodox Christian Church.

In an August 2010 episode of ‘60 Minutes,’ the audience heard one of the world’s most important Christian leaders say he feels ‘crucified’ living in a country which is Muslim-dominated. With as many as 300 million followers world wide Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew feels that the future of the Church in Turkey is threatened as there have been attacks over the years on the Christian properties as well as anti-Christian movements.

The episode showed that empty churches and lack of recognition of the minority religion by the government is almost threatening to destroy the very foundations of Christendom. The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who is the leader of 300 Million of the world’s orthodox Christians, said that he is adamant to stay in Turkey because he felt that the orthodox Christians loved the country they were born in and want to die in. At the turn of the century there were as many as 2 million orthodox Christians but now there are merely 4000 left.

Observance of the rights of the minority – especially the religious minority – should be a litmus test for any country claiming to govern democratically. On this score, Turkey fails miserably.

And both Turkey and Morocco will have to have a lot more actual achievements to demonstrate before anyone should be comfortable about hailing them as examples of positive change in the MENA region.

We should applaud them for how far they’ve come. And we should be prepared to help them form more perfect unions – if and when we’re invited.

Egypt: For Now, Euphoria Trumps Details

By William Fisher

Millions of Egyptians turned out in record numbers, proud and euphoric, to vote in a referendum that will help determine important next steps in Egypt’s democratization.

For most, Saturday’s vote was the first they had ever cast in a poll that was not suspected of being rigged and fraudulent. They were proud that it was their spirit and perseverance that brought down the regime of Hosni Mubarak and made this referendum possible. And they were euphoric – though perhaps still a bit unbelieving – that they now had the opportunity to create a government they would be proud of.

But results of the referendum confirmed that there are deep divisions between the various groups that comprised Egypt’s spectacular version of The Arab Spring, which brought down a 30-year dictator in xmxm DAYS.

Of the approximately 18 million men and women who turned out to cast their ballots, 14.1 million (77.2 per cent) voted to approve the nine constitutional amendments. Four million (22.8 per cent) voted against them.

The turnout – 41 per cent of the country’s 45 million eligible voters – was the largest in Egypt’s history.

In announcing the results, Mohamed Ahmed Attia, the chairman of the supreme judicial committee, which supervised the elections, said, “We had an unprecedented turnout because after Jan. 25 people started to feel that their vote would matter.”

In general terms, the liberal wing of the Tahrir Square protesters, voted against approving the amendments. Their principal objection was that the military government did not allow the people enough time to organize political parties and build effective “get out the vote” programs. They also objected to having to vote for all nine amendments as either ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

Those who voted to accept the amendments were largely influenced by groups that had built “get out the vote” programs, i.e. The Muslim Brotherhood and the remnants of the National Democratic Party, which was the party of deposed President Hosni Mubarak.

These parties are older and relatively well-established, despite the fact that for many years the Muslim Brotherhood has been outlawed. Its members ran for office as “independents” and the Mubarak regime turned a blind eye until 2010, when the government arrested many MB candidates to keep them from running. In the 2005 election, the Brotherhood won 20 per cent of Parliamentary seats but failed to secure a single one in 2010.

Preliminary analysis of the votes suggested that most of the ‘no’ votes came from Egypt’s urban areas, with ‘yes’ votes carrying the country’s provincial governorates.

Many expert observers were surprised by the outcome. For example, Joel Beinin, professor of Middle East history at Stanford University and a contributing editor at Middle East Report, said, "The Revolutionary Youth Coalition, after an internal debate, has decided to reject the constitutional amendments. Polls, while not entirely reliable, indicate that a majority of Egyptians likewise reject the amendments. The reason is that the amendments address only a few articles relating to election procedures and leave the rest of the highly undemocratic 1971 constitution intact. Many believe that the first step in constructing a democratic Egypt is to convene a committee of experts to draft a democratic constitution which would be submitted for a referendum."

The ruling military council, uncomfortable with the job of governing, was responsible for the short notice given before the Saturday referendum. The referendum triggered a rapid process that will see legislative elections in June and a race for the Presidency in August.

Over the years, the Mubarak regime had created various amendments to the 1971 Constitution. Their purpose was to make it virtually impossible to become a candidate, become a recognized political party, impose term limits, and have competent and independent monitoring of all elections.

If the process proceeds according to the timetable proposed by the military council, the new constitutions will be written by the Parliament that’s elected in June.

If candidates from the Muslim Brotherhood do well in the parliamentary election, they will be in a position to exert heavy influence on the language of the new constitution.

The Brotherhood “will hijack the revolution, and they will not listen to us,”
said Wael Biltagi, 40, an owner of a plastics factory, told the New York Times. “They are stubborn and nobody knows their real intentions. They think they are right and everybody else is wrong. But that is not what the revolution is about.”

While many political players advocated for a complete re-write of the constitution, the committee appointed by the interim military rulers was mandated only to write amendments.

The government said the committee’s work would be responsive to the leaders of the Tahrir Square opposition. They want the constitutional changes to reflect clearer separation of powers, strengthening of an independent judiciary, clear rules governing establishment of political parties, and less power for the president.

But there appeared to have been little consultation between the drafting committee and the opposition as preparation of the amendments progressed. The amendments were announced on Feb. 25 after virtually no public discussion by an 11-member committee of experts chosen by the military. This lack of opportunity for input angered many of the more liberal Tahrir Square groups.

The Arab Reform Bulletin (ARB) reported that because of the huge turnout, more than 1.5 million additional ballots had to be printed in order to accommodate voter turnout.

“Lines stretched for more than one mile in some places, as thousands were lined up outside the polling stations. High numbers of women were seen voting, and the lines for the polling stations were extremely diverse with regard to age, religion, and background. Observers and monitoring groups have reported that the process has unfolded smoothly across the country, with minimal security disruptions.”

The ARB said the Egyptian Coalition for Monitoring the Referendum issued a preliminary report of the referendum, citing scattered issues including some stations failing to open on time, votes being cast outside of the regulatory curtains, some ballot boxes without locks, the un-washable ink on voters' fingers coming off, and a large number of voting forms being unstamped.

The report also mentions that Muslim Brotherhood members have been telling people to vote 'Yes' as they queue.

The referendum came in for criticism by four human rights groups, who filed complaints with the higher judicial committee alleging some irregularities during the voting.

The groups, including Observers without Borders, the New World Foundation for Development and Human Rights, said members of the National Democratic Party and the Muslim Brotherhood as well as Salafists tried to influence voters during voting held for the constitutional amendments.

Even officials at polling stations attempted to convince voters to vote "yes",
they said. They also alleged that there were no judges at several polling stations.

There was little violence, despite the small numbers of police and soldiers around polling places. In Mubarak’s time, the army was normally present in significant numbers and often interfered with those who were voting or queuing up to vote.

But in one well-publicized incident, presidential candidate Mohamed ElBaradei was pelted with rocks and struck with batons, and his car’s windscreen was shattered. It was later asserted that the attack came from a paid mob of criminals, paid by Islamists, though no one has yet produced any evidence.

Another aspect of the referendum is providing a cause for concern among the pro-democracy supporters. The Christian Coptic turnout was a major disappointment to many who thought a heavy Coptic vote could help turn the tide toward a “no” note. But the Copts – 10 per cent of Egypt’s population or 85 million citizens -- more or less sat on their hands. Many Copts evidently thought their vote would be meaningless.

In the months preceding Mubarak’s ouster, relations between the Copts and the government were extremely troubled. Long discriminated against in a host of ways, churches and homes were burned by, it is believed, Islamists who want to establish a Muslim theocracy. This is one of dozens of issues not addressed in any of the amendments.

For a host of other reasons, many Egyptians simply had a tough time making up their minds about which way to vote. Radio talk show host Samar Dahmash Jarrah told The Public Record, “I have had many different Egyptians on our live radio show, True Talk, in Tampa. Most were active participants in the Jan. 25 revolt and all have voted differently on the referendum! Both sides have their own reasons on why they voted ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ and none of these reasons had to do with religion or being conservative or liberal. Many Egyptians who voted ‘Yes’ did so because they want to move on and pay attention to the larger issues that Egypt faces like poverty, Education and Tourism.”

She adds, “My very own family who lives in Egypt voted ‘No’ and ‘Yes!’ One household couldn’t agree on one vote and I guess this is what democracy is after all and this is what counts.”

My old friend Herb Williamson has lived in Egypt for more than twenty years. We worked together when I lived in Egypt. Herb, an American expat, is an Agri-business Development Consultant working on an international donor-funded project. I think his view of the referendum pretty well sums up the way most Egyptians see it.
“In my very humble opinion,” he says, “I think the long term (i.e., six months) consequences of the ‘yes’ decision puts pressure on the less organized political groups to get their act together very quickly if they want to compete successfully against the more established and better organized groups - e.g., the Muslim Brotherhood (MB).”

He adds: “Having said that, I think MB will have to work very hard in the upcoming parliamentary elections as many who voted ‘yes’ were simply voting for stability rather the perceived instability a ‘no’ vote would have brought. For example, my housekeeper voted ‘yes,’ because she wants stability. She has no interest in MB. I look forward to the coming six months as they will be full of great debates and arguments as Egyptians progress further down the path of democratic reform!!!”

And he concluded: “The good news is that Egyptians, both those who voted ‘yes’ and those who voted ‘no’, are still savoring last Saturday as it was the first time they had ever voted!!!”

“The first time they had ever voted” – that’s the beauty part. I can understand people raising objections to this or that infraction at the polling places. I can understand that it might have been better for people to be able to vote on each amendment separately.

And I can even understand the Army being uncomfortable with the job of governance; armies are not trained to govern. And they are particularly not trained to govern democratically. They are guided by discipline, hierarchy and the chain of command. They are good at war-fighting, not so good at peace-making.

That said, it’s unfortunate that the generals felt they had to depend only on their own internal resources for guidance. Egypt is home to a host of professionals, experienced in consensus-building. Had any of these men and women been consulted, their first bit of advice would have been: Be transparent; let your constituents know what you’re doing and why; invite their thoughts and incorporate the good ones; share your work as it progresses, not simply the final product.

While there was little consultation with constituents, there was a lot more than would have been the case under the Mubarak regime. The Army met with 25 leaders of political parties, in addition to the Muslim Brotherhood, to discuss the constitutional amendments and mechanisms for impending elections. But no one will argue that a single meeting satisfies the need for transparency.

Still, it is very early days for democracy in Egypt. We shouldn’t be surprised that the army has made some mistakes. Be thankful that none of them seems to be life threatening.

However, down the road, what will be a lot more worrying will be a democratically elected president and his (or her) government making the same mistakes.

Egypt: ‘Virginity Tests’ For Women Protesters?

By William Fisher

I know this sounds like something out of Torquemada in the 15th Century or Mengele in the 20th. But it’s neither. It’s post-Mubarak Egypt in the second decade of the 21st Century.

Amnesty International has today called on the Egyptian authorities to investigate serious allegations of torture, including forced ‘virginity tests’, inflicted by the army on women protesters arrested in Tahrir Square earlier this month.

After army officers violently cleared the square of protesters on March 9, at least 18women were held in military detention. Amnesty International has been told by women protesters that they were beaten, given electric shocks, subjected to strip searches while being photographed by male soldiers, then forced to submit to ‘virginity checks’ and threatened with prostitution charges.

‘Virginity tests’ are a form of torture when they are forced or coerced.
"Forcing women to have ‘virginity tests’ is utterly unacceptable. Its purpose is to degrade women because they are women," said Amnesty International. "All members of the medical profession must refuse to take part in such so-called 'tests'."

Twenty-year-old Salwa Hosseini told Amnesty International that after she was arrested and taken to a military prison in Heikstep, she was made, with the other women, to take off all her clothes to be searched by a female prison guard, in a room with two open doors and a window. During the strip search, Hosseini said male soldiers were looking into the room and taking pictures of the naked women.

The women were then subjected to ‘virginity tests’ in a different room by a man in a white coat. They were threatened that “those not found to be virgins” would be charged with prostitution.

According to information received by Amnesty International, one woman who said she was a virgin but whose test supposedly proved otherwise was beaten and given electric shocks.

“Women and girls must be able to express their views on the future of Egypt and protest against the government without being detained, tortured, or subjected to profoundly degrading and discriminatory treatment,” said Amnesty International. “The army officers tried to further humiliate the women by allowing men to watch and photograph what was happening, with the implicit threat that the women could be at further risk of harm if the photographs were made public.”

Journalist Rasha Azeb was also detained in Tahrir Square and told Amnesty International that she was handcuffed, beaten and insulted.

Following their arrest, the 18 women were initially taken to a Cairo Museum annex where they were reportedly handcuffed, beaten with sticks and hoses, given electric shocks in the chest and legs, and called “prostitutes.”

Azeb could see and hear the other detained women being tortured by being given electric shocks throughout their detention at the museum. She was released several hours later with four other men who were also journalists, but 17 other women were transferred to the military prison in Heikstep.

Testimonies of other women detained at the same time collected by the El Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence are consistent with Azeb and Hosseini’s accounts of beatings, electrocution and ‘virginity tests’.

“The Egyptian authorities must halt the shocking and degrading treatment of women protesters. Women fully participated in bringing change in Egypt and should not be punished for their activism,” said Amnesty International. “All security and army forces must be clearly instructed that torture and other ill-treatment, including forced ‘virginity tests’, will no longer be tolerated, and will be fully investigated. Those found responsible for such acts must be brought to justice and the courageous women who denounced such abuses be protected from reprisals.”
All 17 women detained in the military prison were brought before a military court on March 11 and released on March 13. Several received one-year suspended prison sentences.

Hosseini was convicted of disorderly conduct, destroying private and public property, obstructing traffic and carrying weapons.

Amnesty International opposes the trial of civilians before military courts in Egypt, which have a track record of unfair trials and where the right to appeal is severely restricted.

This latest report of barbaric behavior by members of Egypt’s armed forces raises serious questions about the people who are running the country and its services during the present interim period until elections can be held this summer.
The women’s complaints follow testimonies from dozens of male Tahrir Square demonstrators that they were arrested, detained, and abused by the Army as they attempted to make their way across Tahrir Square at night.

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 their 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!” 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?

“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 on 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 was confirmed by one of those who were abused, he said.

This brings back the unanswered question: Can the Egyptian people trust their Army?
Dr. Mostafa Hussein of the Nadeem Center for Victims of Torture in Cairo thinks not.
Dr. Hussein is a psychiatrist and a doctor at the Task Force Against Torture, which brings together non-profits, bloggers and activists highlighting the continuation of torture in post-Mubarak Egypt on a new web page (

Dr. Hussein said today: "The army is engaging in massive and brutal torture. Civilians, many of them pro-democracy activists, are being detained and beaten. Then, many of them have been brought before military courts. These courts are conducted in secret, limit access to lawyers and do not allow appeals.”

Dr. Hussein adds, “People are getting sentences of three to five or even seven years for 'thuggery.' These civilians are sometimes shown on the nightly news on state TV in an apparent attempt to intimidate the public and ensure 'order.' We have testimony of people being beaten, electrocuted, whipped and seeing others beaten to death.”

"Perhaps most distressing, the media in Egypt, even the independent newspapers, are largely ignoring army torture and abuse. The army is a red line. If we're going to have a meaningful democracy in Egypt, this has to change. It's critical that outside media now cover this.”

Dr. Hussain claims she has “translated video and testimony from individuals" who were abused.

The Army is now running just about everything in Egypt, including the government. Every member of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces was appointed by deposed President Hosni Mubarak. Many have lucrative business interests facilitated by Mubarak. During the debate about the amendments to the Constitution, the Supreme Council sided with the Muslim Brotherhood and the remnants of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party (NDP) that the referendum should be held sooner rather than later, and elections for parliament and the presidency, correspondingly earlier than the more liberal Tahrir Square movement advocated.

The Armys role in the democratic revolt has been anything but transparent. They were lauded by activists for not taking sides between anti- and pro-Mubarak demonstraters. They were further praised when they came to the rescue of pro-democracy demonstraters, who were being attacked by gangs of arms thugs hired by Mubarak’s political cronies. But then they attacked peaceful protesters walking across Tahrir Square, arrested them, tortured many, and detained more.

For that kind of double-dealing, an apology is hardly sufficient. Thus far there is no serious sign that the military is inmvestigating or that it plans to file charges against the miscreant soldiers.

So the sooner a president and a legislature can be elected the sooner the Army can go back to what armies are supposed to do.

The question at that point is: Will the Military willingly report to civilian control?

Watch this space.