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October 15, 2012

Egyptian Rights Group: No End to Police Abuses

by Elizabeth Arrott

A human rights group in Egypt says it has documented dozens of cases of torture, rape and wrongful deaths at the hands of security forces since President Mohamed Morsi's rise to power.
 
If true, the allegations, familiar to many in Egypt – police beatings, torture, the use of lethal force against unarmed civilians – would indicate the new government's failure to end one of the most reviled aspects of the old system that led to last year's ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.
 
But these new allegations by the Nadim Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, which the Morsi government denies, focus on the first months of Morsi's rule.
 
Nadim Center psychiatrist Suzan Fayyad says she was not surprised by the allegations, despite Morsi's efforts to extend his influence over the worst offenders under the previous government – internal security.
 
“He did not try to change any of the institutions in the country: not radical change, even no half-radical change. No single change," she said.
 
In its latest report, the Cairo-based human rights group, which has been tracking abuse for nearly 20 years, charges that police have been responsible for 34 deaths, 88 cases of torture and seven cases of sexual assault since Morsi took office in June.
 
According to Fayyad, many of the victims were protesters, and not just political ones.
 
“Most of the violations are against innocent people in the poor quarters in the cities or slums or villages," she said. "It happened usually when they are striking to improve their economic situations."
 
Others, the report says, are political activists, including university students. Most of the deaths, it says, came from an excess use of force when police tried to break up protests.
 
Interior Minister Ahmed Gamal al-Din has said police under the new government will respect citizen rights without any violations – a claim other human rights groups, including Amnesty International, dispute.
 
Of the many promises to reform the Interior Ministry, many critics have noted, salary increases is one of the few carried out.
 
The issue is complicated by the priority to reassemble the force in the wake of last year's revolution. Many police, despised by a newly empowered people, fled their posts during the unrest, ushering in a rise in crime.
 
Political analyst and publisher Rania al Malki says the crime increase caused many Egyptians to reconsider the role of the police.
 
“In general people want the police to be back and they want them to be back in a very strong way," she said. "I mean, the lack of security over the last two years almost has been something that has been criticized very strongly.”
 
The Morsi government, al Malki adds, with its promise to reform the Interior Ministry through internal review, human rights training and punishment for abuse, appears to be weighing several factors.
 
“There is this balancing act the ministry needs to make in order to implement rules about good behavior and about good conduct towards citizens, but at the same time without alienating the police force," she said.
 
Al Malki is among those calling for more emphasis on reform, saying that without strong political will at the highest levels of government, it won't happen.

So far, she argues, it hasn't even begun.