2010 State Department Human Rights Report on Egypt – by Stephen Lendman
In her book, “Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law,” Marjorie Cohn quoted a former CIA agent saying:
“If you want a serious interrogation, you send a prisoner to Jordan. If you want them tortured, you send them to Syria. If you want someone to disappear….you send them to Egypt.”
In fact, Egypt under Mubarak and current military leadership is proficient in all of the above. These practices go on daily but unmentioned in US media reports, claiming September elections promise democracy, when, in fact, everything changed but stayed the same.
Each year, the State Department publishes human rights reports on over 190 countries. Its complete one on Egypt can be accessed through the following link:
It bears repeating that practices under Mubarak continue, including harsh crackdowns, mass arrests and torture of protesters and others challenging regime authority. Emerging democracy in Egypt is nowhere in sight – never, in fact, as long as its military has dominant power, with or without the facade of elected civilians.
That said, the State Department’s report covered disturbing human rights violations, explaining them by category.
Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life
Security forces “committed arbitrary or unlawful killings during the year.” Examples include a 27-year old businessman beaten to death in Alexandria, a 19-year old disappeared and murdered in November, and violent clashes that month with Coptic Christians in Giza, killing two and injuring dozens.
In January, security forces attacked other Coptics with automatic weapons after Orthodox Christmas Mass. Seven died, 11 more wounded. Numerous other examples highlight state violence against targeted individuals or groups. Egypt, in fact, is a military junta run police state, tolerating no opposition to its rule.
According to the UN Human Rights Council, dozens were reported, families given contradictory or no information on the whereabouts of their loved ones.
Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
“Police, security personnel, and prison guards often tortured and abused prisoners and detainees,” some held under Egypt’s notorious Emergency Law, in place since 1967, authorizing indefinite detentions. “The government rarely (holds) security officials accountable, and (they) often (operate) with impunity.”
Domestic and international human rights groups say Egypt’s SSIS (State Security Investigations Service), police, and military use torture to extract confessions, including by:
— stripping and blindfolding victims;
— suspending them by their wrists and ankles in painful positions, or from ceilings or door frames with feet barely touching the floor;
— beatings with fists, whips, metal rods, and other objects;
— electric shocks;
— dousing detainees with cold water;
— sleep deprivation;
— sexual abuse, including sodomy; and
— other forms of torture.
A previous article explained the following:
According to Human Right Watch (HRW) and London Guardian reports, the professed neutrality and public persona of Egypt’s military belie its harshness.
On February 9, Guardian writer Chris McGreal headlined, “Egypt’s army ‘involved in detentions and torture,’ ” saying:
Military forces “secretly detained hundreds and possibly thousands of suspected government opponents since mass (anti-Mubarak) protests began, (and) at least some of these detainees have been tortured, according to testimonies gathered by the Guardian.”
Moreover, HRW and other human rights organizations cited years of army involvement in disappearances and torture. Former detainees confirmed “extensive beatings and other abuses at the hands of the military in what appears to be an organized campaign of intimidation.” Electric shocks, Taser guns, threatened rapes, beatings, disappearances, and perhaps killings left families grieving for loved ones.
On February 17, Amnesty International (AI) reported released prisoners saying military personnel used beatings, whippings, electric shocks and other forms of torture and abuse to intimidate them, extract confessions, and get information about others involved in protests.
“The military authorities must intervene to end torture and other abuse of detainees, which we now know to have been taking place in military custody.”
The worst of these practices continue daily.
HRW researcher Heba Morayef said, “I think it’s become pretty obvious by now that the military is not a neutral party. The military doesn’t want and doesn’t believe in the protests and this is even at the lower level, based on the interrogations.”
Allied with Washington, the Pentagon and US intelligence, it supports power, not populist change, a dark reality street protesters better grasp to know what’s coming from a post-Mubarak regime after elections. Unless challenged, promised reforms will leave entrenched policies in place, enforcing predatory capitalism and police state harshness, what Americans also endure under friendly-face leaders.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Understating their harshness, the State Department called them “poor,” including overcrowding, inferior medicare care, bad hygiene, awful food and enough of it, clean water, proper ventilation, adequate temperature control, and other conditions conforming with international law standards.
As a result, TB and other diseases are widespread. Abuse is common, and youths are treated like adults.
Arbitrary Arrests or Detention
Though prohibited under Egypt’s constitution, hundreds, perhaps thousands, are affected without charge under Emergency Law provisions.
Police and Security Forces
Egypt’s SSIS conducts investigations. Its paramilitary CSF (Central Security Forces) maintains public order.
“There was no systematic prosecution of security personnel who committed human rights abuses, and impunity (is) a problem.” Few accused of torture are investigated, prosecuted or punished.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment in Detention
Emergency Law arrests and indefinite detentions are common, those held kept incommunicado without access to family members or counsel before facing trial. Many are tortured.
Denial of Fair Public Trials
In violation of constitutional law, Egypt’s judiciary is “subject to executive influence and corruption….State security courts….share jurisdiction with military (ones for matters) affecting national security.” As a result, defendants aren’t afforded due process protections. Guilty as charged usually prevails.
Trials are public without juries. Observers need permission to attend. Human rights activists are excluded from most military trials. Lawyers get inadequate access to defendants. Justice at best is hit or miss, mostly the latter.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
Thousands are held at any time without charge indefinitely without access to human rights organizations. Civilians courts also lack independence, especially for politically high-profile cases.
Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
In violation of constitutional law, privacy of homes, correspondence, telephone calls, emails, and other means of communication are routinely violated. Moreover, under Egypt’s Emergency Law, wiretaps, warrantless searches, property seizures, mail intercepts, and other privacy intrusions routinely occur.
Speech and Media Freedom
Though constitutionally guaranteed, they’re commonly violated through harassment, censorship, arrests, prosecutions, and detentions. Opposition political groups, human rights activists, democracy advocates, and independent journalists are especially at risk.
Moreover, Egypt’s Ministry of Information owns, controls and operates all ground-based domestic television and radio stations, replacing real reporting with managed news. Independent newspapers and other publications are also targeted for revealing abuses of power. So are authors of books critical of government policies.
“The Emergency Law authorizes censorship for reasons of public safety and national security.”
Around one-fifth of Egyptians have access, including over 165,000 bloggers, about 20% focusing on politics. Monitoring is routine and occasionally sites are blocked or shut. Moreover, some bloggers and Internet activists are harassed, intimidated, arrested, prosecuted and detained.
Academic and Cultural Freedom
Academic freedom is severely restricted, using various means, including by installing school administrators to enforce government policies. Students are also routinely harassed and arrested. Moreover, Egypt’s Ministry of Culture must approve all scripts and final productions of plays and films, including foreign ones.
Freedom of Assembly
Though constitutionally guaranteed, it’s commonly restricted. “Citizens must obtain approval from the Ministry of Interior before holding public meetings, rallies, and protest marches.” Violators are harassed, beaten, arrested, prosecuted and detained.
Freedom of Association
It’s also restricted though guaranteed by law.
Freedom of Religion
Again, it’s constitutionally guaranteed but some practices are restricted. “The status of respect for religious freedom by the government remained poor….”
Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
Freedom of movement is mostly, but not entirely respected. For example, travel in designated military zones is prohibited, and males who haven’t completed compulsory military service can’t travel abroad or emigrate. Moreover, no legislative framework exists for granting asylum, and refugees are only admitted short-term, provided the UNHCR assumes full responsibility.
Respect for Political Rights
Electoral procedures are constitutionally mandated, but in practice they’re easily subverted. Mubarak, for example, ruled for almost 30 years, easily winning “elections” with overwhelming personal and parliamentary majorities despite governing despotically.
Official Corruption and Government Transparency
It’s prevalent at lower levels and rampant at higher ones. Mubarak is believed to have stolen billions. A February 4 London Guardian Phillip Inman article suggested his wealth approached $70 billion in UK and Swiss banks, as well as US, UK, and Sharm el-Sheikh property. His sons, Gamal and Alaa, are also billionaires. Like other global despots and many corporate bosses, he made his money the old-fashioned way. He stole it, stashing most discretely offshore.
Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Despite constitutional protections, these practices commonly exist. Moreover, no prohibitions against domestic violence or spousal abuse exist, despite both being significant ongoing problems. Moreover, sexual harassment isn’t criminalized, nor sex tourism in Luxor, Sharm El-Sheikh or other tourist areas. A shocking 2008 report found 83% of Egyptian women and 98% of foreign ones faced daily sexual harassment and/or abuse.
Persons with Disabilities
Discrimination commonly exists despite legal requirements for businesses to fill 5% of their positions with physically or mentally disabled persons. Overall, widespread societal discrimination exists.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
HIV/AIDS positive individuals, gays, and lesbians are socially stigmatized in society.
A previous article explained poverty wages, few benefits, high unemployment, the state-controlled Trade Union Federation (TUC) subordinating worker rights to demands of government and private sector enterprises, prohibition of strikes and collective bargaining, corruption, mismanagement, mistreatment, short-term contracts for temporary workers, and other job related abuses.
A Final Comment
Overall, the State Department’s report reveals disturbing civil and human rights violations, continuing unabated since Mubarak’s ouster. As a result, anyone challenging military junta rule faces harassment, arrest, detention, torture, and imprisonment.
Expect little change after scheduled September elections, installing new faces to continue old practices, unless sustained Arab spring fervor achieves otherwise, a dim prospect but possible.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.