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.


Division, Distrust and Despair – Egypt Votes On a New Constitution

Egyptian polling place

Egyptians line up outside a polling station in Mahalla on 15 December to vote in the referendum on a new Constitution. © Amnesty International

By Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International’s North Africa Researcher

Arriving in Cairo a few days before the constitutional referendum held on Saturday, 15 December, I couldn’t remember a more bitterly divided and polarized Egypt.

During my last visit to the country as part of an Amnesty International delegation to document human rights violations committed during the 18 days of the “25 January Revolution”, there was a palpable sense of unity among protesters despite the suffering and violence.

Egyptians from all walks of life – women and men, Christians and Muslims, young and old, liberal and Islamist, affluent and poor – stood together against the government and its tactics to crush the uprising. They put aside their political, religious and ideological differences to fight for a common cause, and they were successful.


Egypt: Street Fights at the Steps of the Presidential Palace

The following post is from Amnesty International’s Egypt team. 

Demonstrators and security forces outside the presidential palace ©Amnesty International

Demonstrators and security forces outside the presidential palace. ©Amnesty International

When he took office just a few months ago Mohamed Morsi promised to be the president of all Egyptians.

But hopes that he would take steps to resolve the current situation and give up the wide-ranging powers that triggered this latest crisis have been dashed after a bitter and bloody night of clashes between the president’s opponents and supporters.

The clashes followed an attack by the president’s supporters – believed to be largely made up of members of the Muslim Brotherhood – on a sit-in staged by his opponents outside the Presidential Palace in Heliopolis.


The World Reacts to Syrian Violence

Burial of victims killed by Syrian forces in Houla, Syria

Syrians bury tens of victims' bodies who were killed by Syrian forces as they attend their mass funeral in Houla, Syria, on May 26, 2012. ©

On Friday, the Syrian military brutally killed over 100 people in Houla, Syria.  Our sources tell us that the barrage of shells, mortars, rockets and raids on Friday left at least 108 dead, including 34 women and 50 children.

The horrifying violence has had geopolitical repercussions around the world:

  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated, “The government bears the main responsibility for what is going on.”  It was a surprising departure from past statements by Russian officials that provided diplomatic cover for Syrian government violence.
  • Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood called on “Arab, Islamic and international governments … and the people of the free world to intervene to stop these massacres.”
  • And today, at least 10 nations expelled their Syrian ambassadors and senior Syrian diplomats — the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Bulgaria and the Netherlands.


Egypt Must Not Hold Its NGOs Hostage

In his three decades of leading Egypt, Hosni Mubarak never understood civil society or the need to have civil organizations outside the authority of the government.

That ignorance of the role of civil society ultimately undid him, as the organizational ability of women’s groups, students and scholars, journalists, lawyers and other professionals played an essential role in running him from power a year ago this weekend.

So it shouldn’t be surprising that the Mubarak cronies and old generals who remain in power share the same contempt for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) evidenced by the announcement last week that they were referring 43 people, including several Americans, for investigation of violating rules governing NGOs operation and funding.


Hope that Jan. 25 Demonstrations May Mark a New Direction for Egypt

There have been many demonstrations for political rights in Egypt, but many activists are saying they have never seen the level of excitement that they are seeing around the Jan. 25 demonstrations set for sites throughout Egypt (with some solidarity marches planned in the U.S. and elsewhere).

Now the question is how the Egyptian security authorities will respond.

The difference, of course, is the lightning bolt provided by the Tunisian revolution this month, which has energized human rights and democracy activists in Egypt and throughout the region.  Egyptian activists have not been quiet over the past few year but the combination of stale economic growth, a tiring number of instances of government corruption and yet another unfair national election marred by government limits on political activity, the possibility of change does seem to be plausible.

But there have been reports of police threats to take action against demonstrators. Opposition activists, including members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood organization and the National Association for Change, have reportedly been summoned and threatened with arrest and detention if they go ahead with plans to protest.

Jan. 25 is a national holiday to celebrate the achievements of the Egyptian police force.

“Egypt needs to allow peaceful protests, and stop arresting and intimidating peaceful opposition activists” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa program.   “The country’s security forces have a worrying record when dealing with demonstrators, and we urge them to refrain from excessive and disproportionate force tomorrow.”

Hopes have been raised before in Egypt, only to be stopped by a combination of oppressive government response and opposition in-fighting.  Some blame the international community for continuing to support the Mubarak regime without pushing for change. But for a long time, activists have sensed that “long arc of justice” working in their favor.  If this is their time, they need to know the international community is behind them now and unequivocally.

For those who would like to follow reports of the demonstrations, activists have set a Twitter hastag of #Jan25.

Jan. 25 Update: The best English-language review of the day’s event, which included large number of arrests, can be found here.

Sign of an Egyptian Election: Mass Arrests

How do you know when it’s election season in Egypt?  The arrests mount up.

In what has become a regular pre-election ritual, Egyptian police and security officials have arrested more than 150 members of the Muslim Brotherhood since the group announced that it will participate in Nov. 29 parliamentary elections.  More than 70 members were arrested just in the past few days.

It’s not just the Muslim Brothers feeling the crackdown.  In the past few weeks, other political opponents have been detained, including Gamila Ismail, wife of Ayman Nour, a former leader of the El Ghad party who was convicted and sentenced to jail after being the first runner-up in the 2005 presidential campaign. Ismail was released after being detained.

The pre-election arrests follow the pattern established in previous parliamentary and presidential elections, with the Muslim Brothers often taking the greatest brunt of the crackdown.  But if the arrests no longer surprise, the Egyptian government’s contempt for the basic premises of free and fair elections still brings outrage.

“If the forthcoming elections are to be fair and credible, the Egyptian government must ensure that they are conducted on a ‘level playing field’ and uphold the rights to freedom of association of all candidates and their supporters,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa.  (The complete Amnesty International statement can be found here.)

The arrests come at the same time that a ruling party official provided the strongest indication that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak will run for re-election in presidential race scheduled for 2011.  If the 82-year-old Mubarak runs again, the crackdown for this year’s parliamentary election has the potential to be a tune-up for a harsher effort next year.

What will the world’s response be?  In past years, allied governments have looked the other way as the Mubarak government has crackdown on election opponents.  These crackdowns make a mockery of the electoral process and the idea that the people should be free to elect their representatives.  If the world continues to be a silent audience, and is a mere onlooker to the injustices being committed in Egypt it will have betrayed the values of human equality and dignity that are at the core of all human rights.