Foreign Policy: ‘They Struck Us Down Like Animals’

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As Egyptian authorities use brute force to disperse two pro-Morsy sit-ins, protesters vow to resist the crackdown until the bitter end.

 CAIRO — A hail of gunfire crackled in the background as paramedics rushed a young male protester on a blood-spattered stretcher away from the frontline of the Islamist sit-in in Cairo’s Nasr City. The neat bullet wound to his stomach, the medics speculated, was from a rifle round. For a few minutes they tried CPR — but to no avail. Before anyone could learn his name, the man, who appeared to be in his twenties, was dead.

“Most of them are shot in the head or the chest,” said the exhausted looking medic, Ahmed, his green uniform smeared with dried blood. “In my truck alone, four protesters have died.”

This is how it went for most of the day on Wednesday, Aug. 14, as Egyptian security forces’ attempt to clear two sit-ins manned by supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsy devolved into a bloody, 12-hour long battle that by nightfall in Cairo left more than 250 dead and 800 injured. It marked the single most violent day in Egypt since Hosni Mubarak was ousted from power in February 2011.

The Interior Ministry, the military, and interim government had promised to peacefully disperse the camps, raising the idea of cutting off their electricity and water to force protesters to go home. But at 6:30 a.m. this morning, it became clear they had decided to take a less subtle approach: Armored cars, police officers, and soldiers marched on the protests in Nasr City and Giza, opening fire with birdshot, tear gas, and live ammunition.

“They didn’t give us a chance. They struck us down like animals, I’ve never seen it like this,” said Ahmed Azazy, a 44-year-old businessman from Banha, who was taking a rest from the front line of the clashes by the main encampment. “I can’t tell you the amount of people who died in front of me. Go to the field hospital, see how many bodies there are.”

The Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque, which sits at the center of the Nasr City sit-in, became a makeshift morgue as the casualties from clashes with the police mounted, eyewitnesses toldForeign Policy. The ground was covered in blood, protesters reported, and medics were forced to lay the bodies on the floor. Most were shot dead, they said. One reportedly burned to death after his tent was set on fire.

The field hospital next to the mosque was surrounded by clashes. Protesters on the southern side of the sit-in took turns sprinting through a corridor of live fire to access the building in order to check on the wounded and the dead.

Hours into the onslaught, hundreds of protesters still held their ground, resisting the security forces with rocks and Molotov cocktails thrown over the makeshift barricades of pavement stones. Meanwhile, women and children remained huddled behind sandbags and concrete walls in a southern corner of the Nasr City sit-in. The gunfire, coming from all directions, was bewildering. Bullets rained down from above and zipped past at street level — protesters claimed they had seen snipers shooting down on the encampment from the overlooking buildings. Black columns of smoke mingled with the impenetrable plumes of tear gas, making it difficult to breathe.

“Killers, they’re killers, they slaughtered us like sheep,” shouted one protester on his way back from the frontline, a Quran tied around his neck and a cheap plastic gas mask on his head.

Standing among the weary fighters, a protester took a break from the fighting and started a chant to boost morale. “We are ready to give our blood and our soul for Islam,” he shouted, and hundreds joined in. They climbed the sandbags in defiance of the security forces, who respond with gunfire.

On the side streets of the residential area, security forces shot at anyone attempting to access the sit-in. Residents, journalists, and families of those trapped inside ran from car to car, taking cover from the hail of gunfire. The authorities had promised a safe exit — but all entrances were barricaded in by the security forces or blocked by street battles.

“My son, he’s just 21 years old, he went to help when he heard the gunfire. He cannot get out, we cannot get in, what do we do?” said Mona Salama, 40, a doctor who lives nearby. “There are snipers on the buildings who shot at us as we tried to get in. It’s not safe.”

Eyewitnesses later reported that the security forces raided the medical center, forcing protesters and medics to flee, leaving the dead behind. For its part, the Muslim Brotherhood released a statement accusing the police of stealing the bodies to cover up the size of the massacre.

The violence was not restricted to the capital. In Upper Egyptpro-Morsy demonstrators attacked local government offices, setting fire to a courthouse in the city of Beni Suef. Some 41 people were killed in the province of Minya, according to Health Ministry officials, as street battles with security forces raged on into the evening.

It was not just Morsy supporters who were under attack: By midday, the violence had morphed into sectarian bloodshed. The main Coptic Christian church in Sohag and in Minya was set on fire by Islamist protesters according to local media reports. In the Nile Delta’s governorate of Gharbia, citizens formed human chains around one church in a bid to protect it from an impending assault.

With Egypt in flames, the government moved quickly to try to restore law and order by all means necessary. Interim President Adly Mansour’s office announced that a curfew would be put in place from 9 p.m. until 7 a.m.and that a month-long state of emergency would be implemented. Mansour also called on the military to support the Ministry of Interior and its police force.

But even as Mansour tried to assert control, his administration was showing signs of strain. Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei, who had been pushing for reconciliation with the Muslim Brotherhood, tendered his resignation in a statement that condemned the breakup of the sit-ins.

However, other political forces sympathetic to the government defended the crackdown. Egypt’s main coalition of non-Islamist forces, the National Salvation Front (NSF), defended the actions of the security forces in a statement, calling the day “a victory against all political forces trafficking in the name of religion.” Khaled Daoud, a leading member of the NSF, told Al Jazeera that the Muslim Brotherhood bears “full responsibility” for what happened, as their encampments were not peaceful.

The destruction of the pro-Morsy protesters’ sit-ins, however, seems to have done nothing to dull the opposition’s resolve to keep up the resistance to the military government. Even after 12 hours of bullets and tear gas, they were already preparing for the next round of fighting.

At the back of the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque, where protesters were still battling with lines of police, protesters remained determined to keep the demonstrations going.

“Whatever the police do, we will get Morsy back, he will remain our president,” said Ahmed Alam, a 28-year-old engineer readying himself to go back into the fight. “They have to kill 80 million of us to get the power they so desperately want.”

The Sunday Times: When the army snapped

The Sunday TimesAfter a month’s peaceful protest by Morsi supporters, Egypt’s military finally lost patience, and at least 65 lost their lives

IT was in the early hours of yesterday morning that the first victims, blood streaming from their faces and bodies, began to be carried into the makeshift hospital near the Rabaa al-Adawia mosque in the eastern outskirts of Cairo.

For weeks Egypt’s military rulers had tolerated a sit-in by supporters of Mohamed Morsi, the elected president whom they ousted on July 3.

Now, as demonstrators from his Muslim Brotherhood party began to move out into surrounding roads, blocking traffic and pitching their tents, the army’s patience began to run out — with deadly consequences. “At about 2am the injured started coming in,” said Yehia Mekkeyah, 36, who lectures in renal science at Egypt’s Ain Shams University, but was helping out at the hospital.

“First they were suffering from suffocation due to tear gas and birdshot pellets but the live ammunition started around 4am…”

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A make or break moment for Egypt’s President Morsi

New Statesman
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Egypt is steeling itself in the run-up to nationwide protests against beleaguered President Mohamed Morsi on the first anniversary of his inauguration.

 

Sunday’s demonstrations, which organisers claim will “make or break” the Muslim Brotherhood president, are spearheaded by a grassroots campaign Tamarod, meaning “rebel”. It aims to secure enough signatures to a vote-of-no-confidence petition to outweigh the 13 million votes that brought Morsi into power.

Tamarod say they have already collected at least 18 million, and will present them to Morsi.

As tensions rise, rumours abound that the army may intervene, just one year after handing power to a civilian chief.  Defense Minster Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi cryptically said Sunday that the military “stayed out of political matters” but has a duty to “prevent Egypt slipping into a dark tunnel.”

Meanwhile the police, historically hostile to the Brotherhood, vowed to protect state institutions but not the group’s headquarters, which have recently been targeted in firebomb attacks.

Tamarod spokesperson Eman El-Haghy tells the New Statesman confidently that they will call on the head of the Constituent Assembly to be interim president. “The president has dragged our country backwards… he has not fulfilled the revolution’s goals.”

Tamarod say political forces will choose a transitional president and technocratic government to draft a constitution before elections: a tough call for an opposition that critics say hasn’t united around anything except dislike of the Brotherhood.

Nevertheless the mounting anger against Morsi is significant.

“I don’t think it gets more serious than this,” says Hisham Hellyer, Cairo-based non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institute.

“He doesn’t have even have a monopoly on the Islamist trend, the different [ultraconservative] Salafi parties are not deserting him but they are getting there. The more left-leaning Islamist parties are joining protests.”

Certainly the non-Islamist faction who backed Morsi during elections – largely to block his rival, Mubarak-era minister Ahmed Shafiq – are now organising demonstrations.  The National Salvation Front, Egypt’s largest opposition bloc, has meanwhile rejected any dialogue.

Protesters are demanding “bread, freedom and social justice,” the same grievances they voiced during the revolution.

Egypt suffers from a flailing economy; bread, water and fuel crises; and a brutal police force which hasn’t been held to account. Many say the recently-ratified Constitution was hastily drafted by an Islamist-dominated assembly.

Basic rights continue to be violated.

According to Human Rights Watch, bloggers and journalists are increasingly being prosecuted for “insulting” officials. State torture remains endemic; defamation and blasphemy prosecutions are increasing.

“The economy is not doing well,” says Ahmed Galal, Director of Cairo-based Economic Research Forum.  “The budget deficit is growing, and there is sluggish economic growth at a time of growing unemployment.”

Continued unrest and no political consensus means foreign investment has dried up, Galal adds. “Most of Egypt’s economic problems would be resolved if a political settlement is reached.” Something Morsi has yet to do.

Hellyer says the president also picked fights with institutions like the interior ministry and judiciary “without correct political support.”

One embarrassing example was when the High Constitutional Court rejected the electoral law last month, meaning Egypt won’t have a parliament until 2014, even though the president had already called elections.

Morsi himself faces direct judicial challenges: Shafiq is appealing the results of last year’s presidential poll.

Even the Brotherhood admits expectations have not been met.

“The first year has been much more troublesome than we had expected,” says Gehad El-Haddad, an advisor to the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, adding that the government’s performance has not been “optimum”.

State institutions, El-Haddad says, are the problem. “They are unprofessional and corrupt and actually challenge the president’s initiatives.”

El-Haddad also maintains that the media distort Morsi’s record. Despite the hype, he believes there isn’t widespread demand for Morsi’s resignation.

Hellyer says Sunday’s protests, if successful, are dangerous. “The propensity for violence would increase. It’s very bad for the story for Egyptian democracy, as it says that government can be thrown out after a year.”

“The only way Morsi leaves is by the military forcing him out, which involves violence and social disorder.” Clashes have already broken out in several governorates in the lead up.

Activists maintain they will keep their protests peaceful with marches “with people holding whistles and red cards to signify that it is game over,” El-Haghy explains. There will also be protests outside Egyptian embassies in cities around the world – including New York and London.

“We told the world that 30 June, the day we gave him our vote, will be the day we withdraw our confidence.”

Whether Morsi will exit the pitch early remains to be seen.

Al Jazeera: Nowhere to hide, Egypt’s vulnerable eyewitnesses

Click for original articleCairo, Egypt – Ahmed el-Said Salem, 19, said he witnessed his friend being killed by police at a downtown Cairo protest during the downfall of former president Hosni Mubarak.

Salem was later beaten and hospitalised by security forces in March, his family says, apparently to keep him from testifying about it.Yet under Egypt’s new draft of the Witness Protection Act, the same police force accused of abusing him would be put in charge of his safety.

The draft law, discussed by Egypt’s beleaguered Shura Council last week, was slammed in a recent report released by three Egyptian human rights organisations. They said they fear increased intimidation for witnesses to police crime, which is reportedly on the rise since 2011.

However, rights groups had little opportunity to present their concerns to lawmakers. Egypt’s legislature said it would host an open consultation with NGOs and the media, but discussions were held in private.

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Salem, meanwhile, has been locked up in a mental institution, his family says.

“The police report says Ahmed is mentally ill and was carrying documents outlining an Israeli plot when he was arrested,” said Nadia Loutfi Mahmoud, his sister-in-law.

She has a letter from his school stating he was a happy, psychologically sound student. Mahmoud alleged Salem was drugged while in detention at Cairo’s notorious Gabal Ahmar police camp, before being sent to a psychiatric hospital in Abbasiya.

“We wrote to the Ministry of Health asking for an immediate psychological re-assessment, but they replied saying, according to the law, his case will be reviewed in six months. So he’s stuck.”

Salem’s determination to testify and the implications of the new draft law will mean he will remain trapped indefinitely in the archaic Egyptian mental health system, his mother Wafaat Mohamed Mostafa said.

Vague regulations

Osama Diab from the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) co-authored the recent report condemning the draft law.

“Our main concern with the current Witness Protection Act is that it doesn’t encourage witnesses to testify, at a time when discussions about implementing a transitional justice process and truth commissions – which is highly reliant on testimonies – is mounting,” said Diab.

The authors say the language of the legislation, which is just 10 articles long, is dangerously vague.

Unlike the United Nations model law, the document fails to properly outline what a witness is, or what should be the composition or activities of the police-run “protection unit”.

In addition, under Egyptian law refusing to testify is illegal. However, according to Article Nine of the new constitution, witnesses “found to have lied” will receive an “aggravated prison sentence”. This, Diab says, puts witnesses in an impossible position: forcing them to testify even if they fear the consequences of their testimony.

Meanwhile, those who disclose a witness’identity are “subject to imprisonment for at least a year” and a fine, which could end up being a lighter punishment than “lying” witnesses, Diab adds.

It will also only protect blood relatives of the witnesses – unlike similar legislation used in other countries, which covers anyone affected by the testimony.

The law puts witnesses and their families under the care of the security forces at a time of little police accountability and security sector reform. In the two years since the January 25 revolution toppled Murbarak’s regime, only three police officers have been jailed for wounding or killing citizens.

The combination of reported police crimes going unpunished and President Mohamed Morsi publicly praising the security forces, effectively gives officers the green light to abuse witnesses, rights groups say.

Widespread intimidation

Witnesses to police crimes are typically bribed, beaten, threatened with jail or even kidnapped, EIPR lawyer Reda Marey told Al Jazeera. Even though the state should legally pursue all murder investigations, once families or friends drop the complaints case against police are often shelved.

Cases of intimidation are widespread across Egypt, Marey said, citing examples in the Damahour, Giza and Daqahila governorates.

Mohamed Marzouq, a worker from Cairo’s lower-class district of Marg, was reportedly taken from his home by police shortly after the 18-day uprising against Mubarak’s rule began, detained in a flat, and allegedly tortured after he filed a case against his local police station for injuries sustained on January 28, 2011.

  Ola Mohamed Ibrahim’s brother died in police custody [Bel Trew/Al Jazeera]

Terrified, Marey said, Marzouq dropped the charges. When civil society groups encouraged him to file a lawsuit claiming he retracted his statement under duress, he said he was badly beaten with a gun by the same policeman.

Last year, one of the more shocking examples of police interference took place in the impoverished Nile Delta town of Mit Ghamr.

On September 16, 2012, Atef Bahbah was reportedly tortured to death in a police station as he attempted to help an assaulted woman file a report, following a violent security raid in the area.

When angry locals assembled outside the police station, security forces opened fire with automatic rifles, reportedly killing another resident, Said Asaalia.

Local lawyer Ayman Sakr, who has worked on the Mit Ghamr case, told Al Jazeera how he was pressured to step down. “The very day I went on [Egyptian channel] ONTV to talk about the two murders, the police accused my brother Youssef of being a thug; blocking roads and stopping trains.”

Among the eight other residents slapped with similar charges, two were Asaali’s relatives: a warning shot to the community, residents say.

Bahbah’s own wife Ateyad was offered 200,000 Egyptian Pounds ($28,500) to retract her testimony incriminating the police, Sakr added. She said she was told the authorities would jail her brother if she did not back off.

“She subsequently re-wrote her testimony a month later, which now reads that her husband died after falling heavily on his head.”

To date, none of the police officers are known to have been called in for questioning, and no forensic reports have been released. The policeman identified by residents as shooting Said was transferred to a different police station.

Better than nothing

The government maintains it is working on security sector reform and laws such as the Witness Protection Act are a step in the right direction.

“I can’t stress how important this legislation is,” said Taher Abdel-Mohsem Ahmed, a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) and a Shura Council MP, who is working on the law.

Abdel-Mohsem Ahmed said the FJP had been pushing for the act before the Ministry of Justice drafted the document. He also maintained the problem was not with the police per se but with remnants of the former regime inside the Interior Ministry.

“The ministry will create a separate unit of specially chosen members of the security forces. If you look at the situation that we are in, there is no other solution than that the police protect us.”

The president, the government and the FJP, Abdel-Mohsem Ahmed added, were committed to security sector reform – but change will take time, and so people “must be patient”.

The Ministry of Interior declined to comment about the criticisms levelled at the ministry and the draft legislation.

But there is little to reassure those desperate to receive justice for their loved ones.

“I still don’t understand how you get to be the judge and the executer?” Bahbah’s sister, Ola Mohamed Ibrahim, asked from her small home in Mit Ghamr. “I don’t care what laws they author, I lost my brother, and I just want someone to be held to account.”

Karim Ennarah, an EIPR researcher who worked on Bahbah’s case, said the only way to protect witnesses was for civil society to make their stories public, while putting pressure on the state.

“This shaky transitional period – marked by inability to implement anything – will continue, as long as there is no real commitment from the ruling elite to ensure police accountability,” Ennarah said.

“Any attempt to pretend that Egypt’s institutions are functioning normally and are capable of enforcing laws like these, will be met with a different reality.”

Follow Bel Trew on Twitter: @Beltrew

Two days in Taksim: Battle continues for Turkey’s freedoms

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As fierce fighting continues and PM Erdogan refuses to back down, what next for protesters forcibly evacuated by police from their anti-government sit-in?

In the warren of cobbled streets just off Istanbul’s Taksim Square, hundreds of riot police fired tear gas Sunday at protesters trying to return to nearby Gezi Park, the site of a weeks-long sit-in against Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Meanwhile, a few kilometres away in Kazlicesme district, the premier delivered a fiery speech to a sprawling crowd of supporters in which he vowed to hunt down the “provocateurs” and affirmed that his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) would not “step back.”

Nationwide demonstrations had erupted two weeks previously, when demonstrators were initially forced out of Gezi Park while protesting a planned development which would see the area transformed into a replica of an Ottoman-era barracks and a shopping mall. The grievances grew beyond the park to defending freedoms of expression and assembly.

Saturday evening, after Erdogan warned protesters once again that they must leave, Turkey’s black-clad riot police, who had been waiting on the sidelines since the last assault, entered the disputed park to forcibly evacuate its temporary inhabitants.

Gezi Park protesters had just announced they would be staying put. A few hours before, one of the demonstrators manning the Gezi Park main stage, Ali Can Elagoz, told Ahram Online the park protesters had “four simple demands” that would need to be fulfilled before they shifted, including the release of those arrested during demos and retribution for the police chiefs behind the nationwide crackdowns which has seen five dead and over 5,000 injured.

Under cover of volleys of tear gas and water-cannon jets, bulldozers went in and began clearing the colourful protest campsite.

“The police only warned those by the main entrance [from Taksim Square] but didn’t warn us in the middle,” says Ahmet, a protester who wanted to remain anonymous for fear of arrest. “They started throwing sound bombs and tear gas, and then police entered with batons and shields. They targeted those wearing helmets, gas masks and goggles. We were not fighters, there were women and children present, we didn’t resist.”

Demonstrators – who hours before had been singing and dancing in a peaceful and festive sit-in – were scattered. Field hospital staff were reportedly detained.

Many, like Ahmet, sought refuge in the nearby five-star Divan Hotel, which was subsequently gassed. Protesters spun the rotating hotel doors for hours in an attempt to relieve those trapped in the smoke-filled reception.

The riot police took turns, some haphazardly firing gas, pepper spray and orange-tinted water jets at protesters, others taking cigarette breaks, at one point purchasing bagels from a cart that inexplicably materialised around midnight.

The battles raged on through the night and into the morning, as police pushed protesters away from the square and into nearby residential neighbourhoods.

By Sunday more than 1,000 police reinforcements had been flown into the city from areas to the southeast and east to secure both the Gezi Park area and the prime minister’s rally.

Riot police and gendarmerie closed off all the main routes leading to Taksim Square, bringing the area to a standstill. Battles moved into the maze of sleepy side streets: the air stung with gas as canisters smashed through shop windows.

On the square, municipality workers were busy replanting shrubbery, while police sprayed water on Gezi Park, now clear of all tents.

Across the Bosphorus, Erdogan told the gathered AKP supporters said it was his “duty as prime minister” to clear Taksim Square and Gezi Park, claiming he had handed both “back to the people.”

He blasted foreign media for being liars and misrepresenting the events on the square while hinting of a foreign plot.

Using a threatening tone, Erdogan also vowed to utilise city surveillance footage to root out “social media instigators” behind the street demonstrations, saying the authorities will identify them “one by one.”

Erdogan also accused the main opposition party, the Republican’s People Party (CHP), of opportunistically using the street to “get what they cannot get out of the ballot boxes.”

He once again stood by his statement that the protesters were “capulcu” or looters, a label Gezi Park protesters played with during the sit-in, some putting up signs proclaiming their tents “capulcu homes.”

“Some call me dictator. What kind of dictator would receive the Gezi Park occupiers and the sincere environmentalists?” Erdoğan said, referencing a Thursday meeting with Ankara protesters, during which they brokered a deal that would delay action on Gezi Park development pending a court decision and open an investigation into police violence.

He finished his Sunday speech by announcing further “Respect for National Will” rallies next week, as part of his ongoing elections campaign.

“Either he knows this has nothing to do with a foreign conspiracy but [his speech] will play well with his constituency as elections are coming, to consolidate power, or he doesn’t see that the people were using their democratic right to express dissent,” Barcin Yinac, a local journalist and editor at Turkish Hurriyet Daily News, tells Ahram Online. “For him, those who aren’t voting for the AKP are an existential threat which needs to be eliminated.”

As the fighting continues, the fear for many is that his speech is the beginning of a targeted crackdown on those standing against the ruling party and the premier.

Yinac believes that it is too early to concretely say but “from past experience, whenever a big personality displays a critical attitude towards government positions, there are punishments.”

She pointed out that while Erdogan was giving his speech, a “witch hunt” had begun: doctors who treated injured protesters were being taken into custody, as were leaders of the politicised Beşiktaş football fans club, whose football chants became political slogans.

Aykan Erdemir, a CHP parliamentarian, believes the premier will “fight the bitter authoritarian battle to the very end” and will not step down unless there is serious resistance or a split within his own party.

Erdemir, whose party publically supported the protests – although members were told they could only participate in a personal capacity – believes the police raids have cost Erdogan credibility at home and internationally, which could see the development of a new opposition party.

“There is a call for a new centre-right party and to bring it together with the liberal parties,” Erdemir says, “a grand coalition of centre-left and centre-right.”

This desire for a new alliance, he says, could pose a serious challenge to a beleaguered AKP.

The protesters for their part are unlikely to back down.

“No one will be satisfied until some of those officers and governors who are in charge are sacked… there is a lot of anger against state violence by the police,” says Ozan Tekin, of the Revolutionary Socialist Workers Party, which manned a tent in Gezi Park before it was cleared, and which has members currently fighting in the streets.

The recent protests across the country, Tekin says, are the first real movement against the AKP that has not been aligned with the army, which historically has stepped in following periods of political instability and has been the alterative to unpopular governments.

Tekin cites the unfulfilled demands of the Taksim Solidarity group, the main umbrella organisation of the recent resistance, as the main reason why demonstrations will not stop. These include the release of detained protesters and the removal of bans on demonstrating in Turkey’s public squares.

Certainly amid the colourful banners and tents of the Gezi Park protest, there were common complaints about Erdogan’s impingement on democratic and personal rights and the increasing signs of social engineering by the state.

“We’ll be here for the next few months. Gezi Park development is an indication of a wider issue,” Aysem Er, an architecture student, told Ahram Online from her tent, now cleared from the park.

“It’s not a problem about trees, it’s a problem of our freedom.”

Egypt’s Khaled Said: Three years on, still no justice

Ahram

On the anniversary of the brutal police murder which inspired the Egyptian January 25 Revolution, Khaled Said’s family prepare for retrial
 In a small bedroom in Alexandria adjacent to the sea, the belongings of a young man: new trainers, a computer console and homemade speakers are quietly gathering dust. Three years of dust, to be precise.

On 6 June, 2010 their owner a 28-year-old called Khaled Said left his desk to walk to an Internet café across the street and never came back.

He was beaten to death by police officers in broad daylight. A photograph of his face on the autopsy table, mutilated beyond recognition, was the breaking point for the nation. Khaled became a symbol: on 25 January, 2011, his story brought millions of Egyptians to the streets.

Exactly three years on, following a revolution, his family are back where they started in 2010.

The two police officers Mahmoud Salah Mahmoud and Awad Ismail Soliman sentenced in October 2011 to seven years in jail for manslaughter are free, after they appealed against what they called a “harsh” verdict. The retrial begins next month.

However, Khaled’s lawyer, Mahmoud Afify, maintains the ruling is not severe enough.

Khalid Said's room untouched three years on from his brutal death (Photo: Diaa Galal)
Khalid Said’s room untouched three years on from his brutal death (Photo: Diaa Galal)

Under Egyptian law, a member of the police force beating someone to death is automatically classified as “torture”, Afify explains, because they are “expected to know better.” This carries a heftier sentence of 15 years, which is what Khaled Said’s family are pushing for.

“I feel like he died yesterday,” says his mother Laila Marzouk sitting in Khaled’s living room, islanded by pictures of her dead son. “We’ve been fighting this for years and we’re are back at the beginning. We still haven’t seen justice.”

Afify believes the ruling was just seven years because, post-revolution, the very people spearheading the investigations are part of the institution under scrutiny: the police force. “Same people, some practices. Nothing has changed.”

With only three police officers serving jail sentences for killing or injuring civilians since the start of the January 25 Revolution and President Mohamed Morsi publically praising the security forces, the fear is that the very killers whose brutality sparked the uprising, will not be found guilty for the crime they committed.

Marzouk says she can only hope that the new judge will be fair.

“I’m trying to believe in him, we see Egyptian people coming to the streets and fighting for an honest judiciary and fair court cases every week. Perhaps all of this will do something for us.”

Laila Marzouk sits behind the iconic portrait of her son Khaled Said on the third anniversary of his death (Photo: Diaa Galal)
Laila Marzouk sits behind the iconic portrait of her son Khaled Said on the third anniversary of his death (Photo: Diaa Galal)

It has been a struggle from the start, Afify explains, listing a catalogue of obstacles.

Immediately after the murder, officers from the local Sidi Gaber police station took the eye-witnesses’ phones and deleted all videos and photos of the crime: a damning blow to the prosecution’s case.

Those planning to testify and their families were subsequently threatened or bribed. The police attempted to prevent Khaled’s lawyer from attending the investigation sessions. The initial forensic report said Khaled died from swallowing a packet of drugs.

“I lost hope in the system then. There were people with pictures of Khaled outside the courtroom saying he was a drug addict,” his mother explains, “The authorities offered to pay for my family to go on the Hajj pilgrimage if we dropped the charges.”

Then, she continues, the police stationed themselves outside the door of their flat and building. “We used to throw water at them from the balcony. They even temporarily detained Khaled’s brother Ahmed.”

It wasn’t until the Alexandrian judge Ahmed Omar bypassed the police and personally carried out investigations himself, lawyer Afify explains, that key eyewitnesses, like the owner of the Internet café where Khaled was killed, felt safe to come forward.

With mounting pressure from the street, the court brought in medical experts from the Universities of Alexandria, Cairo and Ain Shams who rejected the initial forensic report. The evidence began to fall into place.

The street and Internet cafe where Khaled Said was brutally murdered (Photo: Diaa Galal)
The street and Internet cafe where Khaled Said was brutally murdered (Photo: Diaa Galal)

Marzouk talks of being bewildered as she watched the cult of her son grow. The iconic portrait of a young, confident man in a grey hoodie, which is stencilled on hundreds of walls across the country, hangs above her head as she speaks.

“I remember walking down the street and hearing ‘we are all Khaled Said’ for the first time,'” she recalls, “Everyone was shouting my name. I was suddenly responsible: they began calling me the mother of all Egyptians.”

Since the revolution, she describes attending most of the funerals of young men tortured to death or killed in clashes with security forces: “I have a close connection with the mothers, we keep in touch, they are all my sons.”

Although public opinion changed after the revolution, the police have not, she adds.

“When the first verdict was announced on 26 October 2011, police fans destroyed the court and attacked anyone supporting Khaled including activists and journalists. They threw cigarettes, papers and rubbish at us,” Marzouk, her son Ahmed and his sister Zahara describe.

A photo of Khalid’s two siblings together was circulated as evidence Ahmed was an American spy married to an Israeli girl. The family received threatening phone calls calling them terrorists.

When the presidential elections kicked off in 2012, Khaled’s mother started to be courted by would-be presidents who, she says, saw political capital in her, as a revolutionary icon.

The then-hopeful Mohamed Morsi phoned her up during the final run-offs.

Khaled Said graffiti on the cafe walls near where he was killed (Photo: Diaa Galal)
Khaled Said graffiti on the cafe walls near where he was killed (Photo: Diaa Galal)

With the retrial taking place next month, Khalid’s court proceedings will have spanned three regimes: Hosni Mubarak, the military and now Morsi.

Despite promises of security sector reform from the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party and the president, analysts have seen no change.

“There has been very little progress, aside from personnel appointments at the highest level in the Ministry of Interior… Mubarak’s state security was superficially rebranded,” explains Mara Revkin, a civil society researcher and Yale law student, working on new Egyptian police legislation. “The police force need to shift from protecting the state to protecting the people, which is a massive challenge that will take a while.”

It is essential to change the culture of fear and intimidation that is pervasive in Egypt’s law enforcement and justice system, Revkin continues, which requires serious institutional reform and commitment from the ruling elite.

Instead, new legislation, like the Witness Protection Act, is being drafted by Egypt’s upper house of parliament the Shura Council, she adds, which if ratified would see the very police force who terrorise witnesses put in charge of their safety.

The Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party and the president maintain change is happening but it will take time.

“Reforming and purging of the police was one of the main goals of the January revolution and still is because Egypt is in dire need of security, but not on behalf of the freedoms and dignity of citizens,” FJP leading member Essam El-Erian said in press statement in February.

Morsi himself put security at the top of his agenda during his first 100 days in office and has repeatedly pledged reform.

Back in Alexandria, as the family prepares to go through the grueling court process again, promises of change give little reassurance.

“One of the last things Khaled told me before he died was the he was planning great things, he never told me what but it happened,” Marzouk says, “People have told me his death destroyed a wall of fear the country faced and so the street moved. This movement forward cannot be stopped.”

Egypt’s Fledgling LGBT Rights Movement

Ramy Yosef, a 21-year-old man from Egypt’s Nile Delta, came out on Twitter last year. His family responded by forcing him from their home.

Tarek, 28, recounts being beaten and robbed for “dressing like a faggot”—and avoiding the police for fear that they, too, would target him for being gay.

Though homosexuality is not illegal in Egypt, coming out has always been complicated and even dangerous.

But now, even as Egypt becomes increasingly Islamized under Muslim Brotherhood rule, young gay activists are fighting back by building a rights movement and initiating a more public conversation about a subject long kept under wraps.

Tarek, who asked to withhold his last name for fear of retribution, is spearheading an awareness campaign. Yosef, meanwhile, recently started an anti-homophobia campaign on Twitter, which quickly went viral—within hours it had drawn thousands of re-tweets and mentions, quickly gaining support from mainstream activists and celebrities, with some people uploading photos of their partners—an unusual public display in what is still a conservative country. “It was overwhelming,” Yosef says. “It’s the right time to bring a community together.”

Under former dictator Hosni Mubarak, the state persecuted gays and lesbians, charging them with offenses including “debauchery,” “contempt of religion,” and even “Satanism.” In 2001, in what eventually became the notorious “Queen Boat” trial, dozens of men were arrested on a party boat on the Nile and subjected to “anal testing” and other torture before they were tried. The raid and the subsequent court case was the beginning of a government-led witch-hunt in which security forces posed as gay men online; those arrested were often brutally tortured.

The vague and abusive “debauchery” legislation, which Mubarak used to imprison hundreds of people, remains embedded in the penal code. The Ministry of Interior “Vice Squads,” which during the early 2000s cruised downtown Cairo picking gay men off the streets, still exist. And the government’s attitude—in public at least—remains unforgiving. “Gays are not real people,” an Egyptian diplomat said at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva last year.

But gay activists say that even though Egypt has become more Islamized, something has shifted, and there is renewed hope for their cause.

During Egypt’s 2011 revolution, lesbians and gays congregated on Tahrir Square, setting up unofficial headquarters of sorts near the Kentucky Fried Chicken. “For the first time, we weren’t aliens,” Tarek says. “The main challenge was to prove that, ‘yes, I sleep with men, I may be effeminate—but you have to respect me because I’m standing next you in this fight.’”

Riding the revolutionary wave after the ouster of Mubarak, some gay activists called for an LGBT stand on Tahrir. But those pushing a political-rights agenda were quickly silenced by others in the community who feared their demands would be met with a severe backlash.

Today, despite occasional disagreement about the best path forward, Egypt’s gay scene is flourishing like never before—some say because the government and the ruling Islamist elite are too distracted with other problems, including security, division, and the troubled economy, to pay attention to the rights demands.

Mido Hussein, a 26-year-old man who hails from the Nile Delta, said that Western websites and apps like Hornet and Grinder are popular among Egypt’s youth but so are more public and visible meeting spots. Across Cairo and Alexandria, popular bars now regularly host unofficial gay nights. Private parties are legion—and popular with everyone. “We meet in bars, cafes, gyms, the waterfronts in Egypt’s coastal cities,” he says.

Under former dictator Hosni Mubarak, the state persecuted gays and lesbians, charging them with offenses including “debauchery,” “contempt of religion,” and even “Satanism.”

The social scene for lesbians—on- and offline—is also flourishing, even though many gay women are forced by their families to marry against their will.

As a consequence, many women live double lives, throwing lesbian parties when their husbands are away on business trips. Women also meet in salons, beauty parlors, or cafes, sometimes bringing their children along to meetings with girlfriends as “camouflage,” says Kholoud Bidak, a leading lesbian women’s rights activist.

In Egypt, many women who have sex with other women don’t identify themselves as lesbians, and in public, their orientation is often dismissed as a passing “phase,” even if a quick browse online suggests that language reveals much. Lesbians are referred to as “sett meet aragil”—a lady who equals a hundred men—a name for both lesbians and strong women, Kholoud explains.

At the same time, many gays and lesbians express discomfort when confronted with the word “community,” arguing the scene is too fragmented to build any kind of consensus on the ways and means, segregated as it is by class and gender, among other things.

To say that the scene in Cairo is a far cry from New York would be an understatement. And although many express hope for the future and a burgeoning sense of solidarity, Tarek warns that Egypt’s gays may, once again, be targeted for political gain, much as they were during Mubarak’s reign.

“We have an Islamic government, an interior ministry trying to purify its image, and a conservative masculine society,” he says.

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