Inaction by Authorities Leads to Violence in Egypt

Egyptian protesters cheer as they enter the grounds of the St Mark's Cathedral in Abasseyya during clashes with Egyptian riot police on April 7, 2013 in Cairo, Egypt (Photo Credit: Ed Giles/Getty Images).

Egyptian protesters cheer as they enter the grounds of the St Mark’s Cathedral in Abasseyya during clashes with Egyptian riot police on April 7, 2013 in Cairo, Egypt (Photo Credit: Ed Giles/Getty Images).

By Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International’s Egypt researcher

On Sunday I attended the Cairo funeral of four Coptic Christians killed on Friday night in Khousous, a small town north of the city.

I had been planning to travel to Khousous to find out more about the sectarian violence which led to the deaths there. Instead, I found myself caught up in more violence at the funeral itself – with mourners on one side, and unknown assailants and, later, security forces on the other.

Before the clashes erupted, feelings of grief, anger and injustice were palpable inside Saint Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo, which was filled with mourners. Tears, prayers and wailing were drowned out by chants against the government and the Muslim Brotherhood, and vows to avenge the dead.

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Army Out of the Barracks, Back On the Streets

The following post is from Amnesty researchers who are currently in Egypt monitoring and documenting the situation there.

Protestors on a tank in Cairo, Egypt

Protestors on a tank in Cairo ©Amnesty International

President Mohamed Morsi decision to give the army new policing powers has raised new concerns about Egypt’s future, raked up painful memories of the past.

In protests around the Presidential Palace on Friday, we saw tanks and armoured vehicles belonging to the Presidential Guard parked in the streets.

Protesters were climbing on them and taking pictures. A few fearless parents even let their children climb on them, posing with the soldiers.

The scenes were eerily reminiscent of the days after the “25 January Revolution,” when many welcomed the army on the streets after the 18 days of mass protests that ended the rule of Hosni Mubarak.

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Millions of Slum Dwellers in Cairo Still at Risk after Mubarak

The euphoria of the revolutionary moment is wondrous — drawing out from despondency and delivering from despair, young and old, city dweller and peasant, all uniting in a collective that suddenly realizes its power.

In January, the world watched the Egyptian masses stare down the Mubarak regime, millions of ordinary Egyptians transformed into the extraordinary by their numbers and their valiant spirit. In these last days of August, the world is witnessing another valiant rout, as Libyan rebel fighters’ inch closer and closer to deposing a despot who has ruled them for decades.

In the magic of momentous change, it is difficult to spare a moment for the mundane miseries that persist after the crowds have left the squares, and the slogans hang silent. It is the plight of these people that is highlighted in “We are not dirt”, Amnesty International’s report focusing on slum dwellers in Cairo, the pulsing city that is at the heart of the Arab spring.

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The New Face of Egypt

By the Amnesty International team in Cairo.

A child wrapped in an Egyptian flag in Tahrir Square on 11 February ©Sarah Carr

A child wrapped in an Egyptian flag in Tahrir Square on 11 February ©Sarah Carr

Describing in words the atmosphere in Tahrir Square on the evening of Hosni Mubarak’s resignation after 30 years in power would never do it justice.

It was a bit like Cairo itself – you cannot understand it unless you have lived it, felt it, smelt it and drank chlorine-filled water from its tap.

All we can say is that it was a great privilege to be there for this momentous historical occasion.

We can project, years from now, our children or grandchildren rolling their eyes when we repeat, perhaps with a fleeting look of nostalgia or tears in our eyes: “I was there, in the sea of people from all ages, social classes, political backgrounds: Muslim and Coptic, men and women, rich and poor, veiled and unveiled, feeling part of a whole new Egypt that was being reborn.”

In fact, to navigate across the square one needed to follow the right current of people if one hoped to reach friends with whom to share the once-in-a-lifetime experience.

If not, people would scream “mabrouk [congratulations]” to each other over the phone in disbelief and with hysterical laughter.

We came from a generation, like more than a third of all Egyptians, for whom Hosni Mubarak as President was a natural, permanent state of affairs – as engrained in our psyche as the national anthem we had to sing in school every morning.

His fall as a result of a popular uprising was something many dared to dream of, but never quite believed, even after the ousting of Tunisia’s President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali less than a month ago.

We are used to our leaders either dying of natural causes, being overthrown in palace coups or being assassinated.

People’s sense of achievement and pride in being able to take control of Egypt’s future reverberated across the square. “Put your head up high, you are Egyptian,” was sung over and over again and was complimented by laughter, ululations, songs of praise, drums and the waving of Egyptian flags. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

The Women in the Square

Women protestors, Cairo, 28 January 2011. Photo by Sarah Carr

One of the most inspiring sights seen in Tahrir Square this eventful February have been groups of Egyptian women who have braved riots and intimidation by pro-Government forces to join the protests.

At a time, when fundamentalist forces in places like Pakistan and Afghanistan are trying to drive women out of the public sphere, the actions of Egyptian women demonstrate the vitality of women striving for a political voice.

Even while human rights groups have reported casualties as high as 300 and protesters gathered in the square have suffered everything from being charged by horses to being shelled by tear gas and live ammunition, Egyptian women have remained visible and refused to be intimidated.

In addition to providing the world with a testament to the vibrant energy of Egyptian women, their participation has also demonstrated that it is grassroots activism rather than top down quotas that ultimately give women a voice in politics.

In late June of last year the Mubarak Government passed a law creating a special quota for women’s participation in politics.  Reserving a set number of seats for women in the Lower House of Parliament the law aimed at increasing women’s participation in the public sphere.  However, according to Fatma Emam, an editor for Nazra an Egyptian journal for feminist studies, the visibility of women in the protests at Tahrir Square has done far more for promoting empowerment and political awareness among Egyptian women than the reserved quota ever did.  Fatma says:

“The women in Tahrir Square have proven that they can fight and overcome the weak participation of women when they see that they are equal in protest and that their destiny is tied to the country like everyone else”.

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On A Mission Through Cairo

By Amnesty International staff in Egypt

Yesterday, reunited with our two colleagues, we saw flashbacks of the denouement of our last hours of separation. Our night time chase across Cairo’s ghastly streets late on Friday and in the early hours of Saturday morning to become reunited with them after their release could have appeared almost comical and reminiscent of poorly made action films. But at the time, we were too worried about their safety and eager to end this uncertainty and in reality it was deadly serious.

While incredibly relieved by the news of their release after 32 painful and sleepless hours of anxiety, and excited by our few quick phone conversations with them, we could not rest until they were in a place of safety and were able to get a much needed meal, shower and clean beds. Our anxiety was heightened by the fact that they were released some four hours after the curfew began. We weren’t sure where they were being dropped off by the military police who had detained them, without any proof of identity – taken from them at the time of arrest.

The last point was particularly worrying as Cairo at night is an endless maze of checkpoints manned by Egyptian youth patrolling the streets after curfew which had started at 5pm. Police in uniform, security forces in plain clothes and the armed forces reinforced by what felt like half of the Egyptian military arsenal of tanks and armoured vehicles, added to the eerie atmosphere. It didn’t help that the presidential palace was obstructing our way; and we finally discovered that in some parts of Cairo a curfew could actually be enforced and respected.

We made our way through the city, being stopped every few minutes for ID checks and searches of the vehicle, and we made many detours around roads that been  blocked off. As we were going towards them so they were making their way towards us, facing the same problems of roadblocks and risk. Our meeting destination kept changing as we and they sought to find the best place to rendezvous and find shelter for the night.

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First-Hand Account From Cairo: Amnesty Team Reports

Update: The Amnesty staffers have been released

From the Amnesty International Team in Cairo:

We were interviewing a father who lost his 16 year old son in the recent unrest when news of the arrest of our colleagues reached us.

They were visiting a national human rights organisation, the Hisham Mubarak Law Centre (HMLC), when their offices were raided by the military police. The HMLC and the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights, based in the same building, have been leading efforts to provide legal and medical help to protesters camped out in Central Cairo’s Tahrir square in the last 10 days.

It is hard to describe the feeling of utter helplessness of being so geographically close but not knowing where they are or who is holding them. All we could to was make frantic phone calls, including to human rights defenders in Egypt also trying to locate their friends and colleagues.

From their side, colleagues in at the International Secretariat and Amnesty International sections throughout the world are doing their utmost to secure the release of our two colleagues and the other human rights activists arrested at the same time, ending their families’ torment and anxiety.

We could already feel this morning arriving back to Cairo from Mahalla, an industrial city in the Nile Delta, that tensions were rising. When we reached Imbaba, a working class neighbourhood in Giza, we were first met by a climate of distrust. Who are these strangers to the area looking for information about the unrest? Are they pro-Mubarak? Are they pro-opposition? Are they journalists? What are they planning to do with this information?

After we explained as best as we could and showed our identification, the tension dissipated somehow and people started sharing their stories. Stories of suffering even from before the unrest started – mostly around the abuse by local police and officials, of corruption, and of difficult living conditions.

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Live Online Chat On Egypt Crisis

Update: Read a transcript of the chat

Violence on 2 February appeared to be orchestrated in part by the authorities © Nasser Nouri

Join us Friday, Feb 4th from 1:00-2:00 PM EST for a live online chat on Facebook with Amnesty International on the crisis in Egypt.

Geoffrey Mock, Egypt Country Specialist for Amnesty International USA, will be on hand to provide answers on the escalating situation that has brought the nation to a standstill. For over 17 years Geoffrey has worked with Amnesty to support human rights defenders, end unfair trials and torture in Egypt and defend Egypt’s civil society against harassment and legal attacks.

Protests in Egypt continue to rage on, centering around Tahrir (“Liberation”) Square in Cairo. Thousands of Egyptians are demonstrating against widespread corruption, police brutality and poverty in their country. Countless protesters have been killed and scores have been injured in the demonstrations, and journalists working in the country have been detained and threatened by the police for their coverage of the historic events.

To Join The Online Chat
To join the chat go to Facebook on Feb 4th from 1:00-2:00 PM EST and visit the Amnesty International USA Facebook page. Post your questions directly to our “Wall.”

Chat Rules

  • Please keep your questions on topic.  We welcome all questions relating to the Egypt crisis and will try to answer them as they are received.
  • Unrelated questions will be removed from our Wall feed for the duration of the chat.  Thanks for your understanding.
  • Please abide by our Community Guidelines

We look forward to answering your questions!

Breaking: Amnesty International Staff Detained in Cairo

Update: Take action now to demand the release of human rights monitors

Two Amnesty International representatives have been detained by police in Cairo after the Hisham Mubarak Law Centre was taken over by military police this morning.

Amnesty International USA called on President Obama to immediately demand the release of the Amnesty International staff members.  In addition, we have asked for a meeting in Washington with the Egyptian ambassador to the United States.

The Amnesty International representatives were taken, along with Ahmed Seif Al Islam Khaled Ali, a delegate from Human Rights Watch, and others, to an unknown location in Cairo. Amnesty International does not know their current whereabouts.

“We call for the immediate and safe release of our colleagues and others with them who should be able to monitor the human rights situation in Egypt at this crucial time without fear of harassment or detention,” said Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International.

A number of other activists are still being held in the Centre.

For updates on the crisis in Cairo follow us on Twitter.

Egypt Continues Media Crackdown

Protests in Egypt continued into a seventh day today as thousands of Egyptians demonstrated against widespread corruption, police brutality and poverty in their country.  The Egyptian government has tried hard to censor its citizens — cutting off internet and phone access — and now journalists find themselves a target in the crackdown on freedom of expression.

Demonstrators have used phone cameras to expose police abuses © Demotix / Nour El Refai

Al Jazeera English said that six journalists were detained today at an army checkpoint outside Cairo’s Hilton hotel. The journalists were held only briefly but their cameras and other equipment was confiscated.

Yesterday, the Cairo bureau of the Al Jazeera network was officially shut down by order of Egypt’s Information Ministry, the network said.

Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa, said:

“This government action against Al Jazeera is just its latest attempt to close down reporting of the protests on the streets and the free flow of information.

“The authorities are clearly trying to intimidate the media and to prevent the truth coming out about abuses by its security forces, as they struggle to maintain their grip on power in the face of unprecedented protests and demands for fundamental change.”

Local and international journalists were assaulted, arrested and their equipment confiscated by security forces throughout recent mass protests against poverty, police abuse and corruption.

The government must not be allowed to put the whole country under an information blackout, and that message needs to be sent to them very clearly by their friends and allies abroad.  You can help send that message by emailing US authorities now and urging them to use their influence to stop these abuses.

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