Egyptians Who Missed the Celebration

1. “The burden will be off your shoulder when you realize that you won’t be burnt to death in one of the trucks of the Egyptian police that carry prisoners to where they’re going to be jailed. But watching a rape attempt will reveal the truth about the situation you live in. After one day of detention and torture and after they were about to kill me, thanks to the intervention of the German Embassy, I was released but the fate of the rest of the detainees is unknown to me as they are not German citizens.”
From the testimony of the German journalist, Sebastian Bacchus who was randomly detained in Cairo and the German Embassy intervened to have him released.

2. “If I love Egyptians then I don’t like anybody to harm them or hurt their feelings. We want to regain security with the support of the police without violating human rights.”
Then Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in a television interview.

3.  Dr. Ibrahim Abdel Razzek was arrested during a random detainments campaign on Cairo’s Faggalla Street while he was buying books for the fellowship exam he was preparing for. He says: “Whenever I tell them ‘have mercy, I’m a doctor’ they hit harder. They beat me in the Azbakeyya Police Station and the Abu Za’bal Prison. I was forced to take off my clothes and they poured cold water on us and left us to the following day without covers or clothes on the floor that was covered with water. Every day, during the inspection time, they made us stand up facing the wall and beat us. I couldn’t reach any of my relatives and they prohibited visits and foods.”

4. “Torture takes place in all prisons but Abu Za’abal surpasses all the others in the savagery of torture. The testimonies of the detainees in Abu Za’abal about their torture are horrifying. The public attorney made a point of not documenting the violations. The decision of the public prosecutor was limited to presenting only six out of forty people who submitted their cases to the public attorney for being exposed to torture to forensic medicine. This decision wasn’t implemented except after the passing of nine days of the torture incidents and the disappearance of most of the traces of torture. They then went out and gladly told us that there was no torture in prisons.”
Yasmine Hossam, the attorney of a number of the detainees in the Abu Za’abal prison.

5. The organizations signing this statement call for  a speedy and independent investigation in the horrid claims of savage torture and sexual abuse that the detainees, both male and female, were exposed to in the prisons and police stations in Egypt of those who were arrested in the demonstrations of the third anniversary of the January 25 Revolution. Khaled Al Sayed recounted the details of the torture a large group of detainees, who were randomly arrested and taken to the Azbakeyya Police Station, were exposed to. He said that the policemen in the station put the well-known political activists in a room where they were tortured while their eyes were covered. They forced them to hear the screams of the detainees who were beaten up and were exposed to electric shocks. They told them statements like: “you revolutionaries, you’re responsible for what’s happening to those kids. Had it not been for you, we would have released them and let them go to their homes.” More than one person of those who were returned to the common detainment room after their torture said that they were sexually assaulted and they were exposed to electric shocks in different parts of their bodies. The signing organizations express their deep concern at some of the testimonies they documented about forcing vaginal examinations upon women detained in the Kanatter Prison of those who were arrested in different incidents including the third anniversary of the revolution. Added to these is sexual harassment by the police against detained women in several police stations.”
Common report issued by 16 Egyptian human rights organizations on February 12, 2014.

6. “Egyptians are a calm and patient people by nature and they would just like to live in peace and safety. The most important thing is a dignified living.”
Then Field Marshal Sisi in his interview with Al Masry Al Youm Newspaper.

7. In the light of new shocking evidence collected by Amnesty International recently, it was shown that tens of civilians were exposed to compulsory disappearance for months where they were exposed to torture and other sorts of ill treatment to admit committing certain crimes or to involve others in crimes. Some of the detainees agree to admit crimes as soon as they’re presented to the Police Security Prosecution to leave prison and be saved from torture. Attorneys told Amnesty International that they were not allowed to attend the preliminary investigation sessions and they weren’t told of the date of the investigation. The number of reports on torture in Egypt is constantly increasing. It seems that fierce oppression is hidden behind the elegant discourse of the authorities about the road map that will lead the country to democracy.
From a statement by Amnesty International dated May 22, 2014.

8. “I can see all Egyptians with love, appreciation and respect and I hope from God that they see everything good from me.”
From the meeting of then Field Marshal Sisi with members of the media.

9. Ahmad Mohammad Idris is a high school student who was arrested in a random sweep while he was returning home from a private lesson. He was standing on the platform of the Shobra al-Kheima metro station. His belongings were inspected and there was a photo of a demonstration on his mobile phone. He was transferred to the Shobra al-Kheima Police Station and from there to the Security Police and then to the Central Police Camp in Benha where he was accused of demonstrating without a permit, attempting to overthrow the regime, delaying the underground and belonging to an outlawed group. The prosecutor has renewed Ahmad’s imprisonment for three months and he’s exposed to the most terrible kinds of torture in the Benha Camp. His family is not allowed to visit him.

10. They make them lie on their bellies with their hands tied behind their backs and then cover their eyes and make police dogs bite them. The cells and the prisoners were covered with water. They burnt their clothes and their belongings including exam books. Mahmoud Farahat is a student in the first year of the Faculty of Engineering at Al Azhar University. He has a permit to allow him to keep books and to attend exams. While leaving to attend his exams, they used to beat him with a whip or a stick and when he returned the beating, insulting and humiliation continued to the extent that he told his family: “I don’t want to sit for exams; I don’t want to leave my cell.” Those who attacked them were the riot police. Mahmoud told his family in the five minute visit: “I don’t want to see you again. I don’t want anybody to come except my father. I don’t want you to see me like this.”
A testimony on the torture of Mahmoud Farahat who is detained in the Wadi al-Natroun Prison 430.

11. “On Saturday there were calls for hunger strikes in objection to the inhuman treatment. We woke up only to find ourselves surrounded with huge people with masks on their faces dressed all in black with dogs. We thought we were in Guantanamo. The prisoners with criminal charges were scared and sat aside and we started to shout, “Open the cells and let us out.” They made us take off our clothes and collected all our belongings, poured kerosene over them and set them on fire. They burnt everything: the books, the clothes and all the food. We were barefooted and with only our underwear on. They gathered around us and started beating, insulting and shocking us. They tied our necks with ropes like dogs and dragged us on our tummies. They forced us to sing for Sisi and repeat “Sisi is my president” and whoever refused was exposed to severe beating. We were exposed to electric shocks, beatings with wooden sticks and were tear gassed till our colleague Mohamad Abdullah died; he couldn’t take it because of his old age. The elderly among the detainees were injured in many parts of their bodies. The soldiers were competing to steal our watches. We were transported to al-Fayyom Prison wearing only underwear.
From the testimony of the detainee Karim Taha during his transportation from Wadi al-Natroun Prison to al-Fayyom Prison.

Mr. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi,

After you have officially been appointed the president of Egypt, and regardless of my disagreement with the way that the interim authority ran the country after June 30, I still wish you success and I see that it’s the duty of all Egyptians now, the opponents before the supporters, to support you in order to be able to accomplish your task as your success is a success for the whole nation and this is what we all work to achieve. In the middle of the celebrations of your being appointed president, there are thousands of Egyptians who missed the celebration as they’re suffering the worst kinds of systematic torture in the prisons. The testimonies and the reports I cited are only examples of thousands of Egyptian citizens who are detained, tortured and humiliated away from any law. The constitution Egyptians voted for declares in Article 54 that whoever is arrested, imprisoned or detained must be treated in a way that maintains his dignity. He should not be tortured, terrorized, forced or hurt physically or mentally. He should not be detained or imprisoned except in special places designated for this purpose that are suitable from the human and hygienic perspectives. The state is obliged to provide assistance for the handicapped. Violating any of the above is a crime whose committer will be punished according to the law and the defendant has the right to keep silent. Anything that is proven to be said by a detained person under any of the above or the threat of it is void and will not be taken into account.

Mr. President you took an oath to respect the constitution and you’re now the prime person in charge in Egypt and it’s your duty to stop torture at once, presenting whoever tortures a citizen or humiliates him/her to court. The sacrifices of the officers of the army and the police and their defending Egypt against terrorist attacks with their lives is a noble deed that’s appreciated. The names of those martyrs will be in our hearts and in the memory of the nation forever but war against terror shouldn’t be used as a pretext for random detention of innocent people, torturing them and humiliating them. A defendant is innocent until proven guilty and torture is a crime and not a punishment; torture shouldn’t be used against even the worst of criminals. Instead, defendants should be put to a fair trial which might result in sentencing them to the severest punishment but in a civilized manner. The only way to combat terrorism is to establish justice; torturing people and degrading their humanity won’t end terrorism but will increase its causes. Thousands of Egyptians who have had nothing to do with terrorism have been detained. Some of them were unlucky citizens whose bad fortune had them accidently walk near a security campaign or a demonstration. Added to these are the revolutionary youth who gathered Egyptians on June 30 and got rid of the rule of the Brotherhood and their reward was that the authorities threw them in jail according to an oppressive protest law, which has no equivalent in democratic countries. It’s natural to have a law to organize the right of protest but there’s no country in the whole world that penalizes whoever participates in a peaceful stand or whoever carries a banner with five years in jail. We call upon you, Mr. President, to review this law and to stop detentions and torture. You took an oath, Mr. President, to protect the constitution and you promised us to defend the dignity of Egyptians and we’re waiting for you to keep your oath and to fulfill your promise.

This article originally appeared in Arabic in As-Safir

Alaa Al Aswany, the Arab world’s bestselling novelist, is the author of The Yacoubian Building, Chicago, and Friendly Fire. His work is published in thirty-one languages worldwide.

Image: Photo: Egyptians watch the swearing-in ceremony of President elect Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in a coffee shop in Down Town Cairo, June 8, 2014 (Reuters/Mohamed Abd El Ghany)