Five Reasons for Engagement Following the Egyptian Uprising

Egyptians demonstrate outside of the Presidential Palace in May, 2012.  Copyright Amnesty International.

Egyptians demonstrate outside of the Presidential Palace in May, 2012. Copyright Amnesty International.

On the second anniversary of the Egyptian Jan. 25 uprising, there’s a strong sense that the hopes of Tahrir Square have been tarnished.

There’s some reason for this: There have been too many broken promises.  Women, who were so essential to the uprising, were quickly marginalized in the months after it. Copts and other minority groups fear for their future. A new civilian government pushed through a constitution that may further minimize the role of women and lead to past human rights abuses being repeated. And perhaps most important, no institution seems capable of holding former Mubarak officials, security forces and the military accountable for decades of human rights abuses. The spirit of impunity lives on.

Yet, that’s only one side of the situation. There is in fact reason not to lose faith in Egypt’s future. This is not a promise that the path toward justice in Egypt is smooth, nor is it a prediction. But here are five reasons why we must remain engaged:


A New Round of Assaults on Egyptian Women Protesters

Egyptian Women Protest in Cairo

Egyptian women demonstrate in Cairo MOHAMMED HOSSAM/AFP/Getty Images

When Egyptian politics get hot, it’s women who most often feel the flames. So when a group of Egyptian women took to Tahrir Square this past Friday to denounce the frequent assaults on women activists, it wasn’t surprising that they themselves came under attack.

According to Amnesty International, the women were calling for an end to sexual harassment of woman protesters when a mob of men came upon them and groped and punched the activists.

These women stood up to demand an end to sexual harassment. What they got was intimidation and sexual assault.

Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui

At a critical time for Egypt’s future, the attacks underscore how women’s rights to full political participation are central to the spirit of the 2011 uprisings and the hope that Egypt can develop a new political culture based on respect for all human rights.  The attack on the women activists goes straight to the heart of the ruling regime’s efforts to maintain its old practices.

This was the second report this month of women protesters being assaulted in Egypt.  Nihal Saad Zaghloul told Amnesty International that she and three friends were attacked by a large group of men on June 2 in Tahrir Square as they joined a protest after the verdict in Hosni Mubarak’s trial. She was pushed and groped and her headscarf pulled off before some men in the square came to her aid. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

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.


Egypt: New Regime, Some Old Abuses

Nearly a month after Egyptian demonstrators first took to the streets to demand political change, we’re only now finding out about some of the actions taken by the government to fight back.

Amnesty International received reports that some members of the Egyptian security forces have intimidated victims and their families following the overthrow of President Mubarak to prevent them seeking justice and making complaints about the forces’ actions during the unrest. This is the kind of behavior that was closely identified with the Mubarak regime: Ending impunity is essential for Egypt to move forward toward a just regime.

In addition, Amnesty International researchers reported this week that Egyptian prison guards in watchtowers shot dead scores of inmates and a visitor during unrest beginning Jan. 29 at a prison near Cairo.

As many as 43 inmates were killed in the action, inmates at the al-Qatta al-Gadeed Prison told Amnesty researchers.  Another 81 inmates were injured in incidents at the prison.

The report follows on the heels of information that recently released detainees in Egypt told Amnesty International that members of the armed forces used beatings, whipping and other forms of torture and other ill-treatment to intimidate protesters and to obtain information about plans for the protests.

Amnesty International is urging authorities to immediately issue clear instructions to all security forces and members of the army that torture or other ill-treatment of detainees will not be tolerated, and that those responsible for these abuses will be held to account.

Likewise, Amnesty International insists that authorities at the al-Qatta al-Gadeed prison stop the use of lethal force against inmates and allow all those injured to receive medical treatment immediately.

While President Mubarak has stepped down, Amnesty has joined with Egyptian human rights defenders in urging the new leadership to take decisive and immediate action to ensure that the country continues on its road to greater human rights.  Ending the killing, torture and ill treatment of prisoners is a vital step in this process.

To take action on this report, click here.

Is Yemen Next?

By Alireza Azizi, Yemen Country Specialist

A Yemeni man holds up a loaf of bread and a sign that reads "Who is next?" in Arabic, during a protest in Sanaa on February 13, 2011. (MOHAMMAD HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images)

The world media is consumed by the events in Egypt and there is little coverage of the protests in Yemen. Inspired by the uprising in Egypt and the stepping down of Hosni Mubarak, Yemeni people continue with their anti-government demonstrations. According to Aljazeera and other news reports on Saturday’s demonstration, people were chanting “After Mubarak, it’s Ali’s turn” and “A Yemeni revolution after the Egyptian revolution.”

On Saturday protesters started from Sana’a University toward Tahrir square. Near the square the peaceful demonstrators encountered pro-government demonstrators and plain clothes security forces who had gathered in the square since early morning.  The encounter resulted injuries and some arrests. The violence continued on Sunday in Sana’a and several other cities in Yemen.

A number of people were arrested following the Friday and Saturday anti-government demonstrations. In an unconfirmed report Khaled al Anesi, the lawyer and human rights activist, was arrested but was released after an hour.

On Sunday in a news conference, Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), a coalition of opposition parties, welcomed the street protests, but warned against possible escalation of violence.

President Ali Saleh who is an important ally of the US in the fight against Al-Qaeda has in recent weeks announced raising army salaries, reducing income taxes, ordering price control and not seeking re-election when his term ends in 2013. However these measures seem to have been ineffective in satisfying the protestors and young people in particular.

It is the responsibility of the Yemeni government to protect the demonstrators and allow peaceful assembly.

The Yemeni authorities must release all the people who have been detained as a result of their participation in peaceful demonstrations.

Learn more about human rights in Yemen at Amnesty’s Yemen country page.

Obama and Egypt: The Window for Action Remains Open

Note: This post was updated at 12:30 p.m. EST)

US President Barack Obama makes a statement on the situation in Egypt on Feburary 1, 2011. TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images

Hosni Mubarak’s stubborn pride and imperious manner made change in Egypt personal, but he was right in his speech Thursday when he said it was not about him.  It is about bringing about institutional and constitutional change that will embed and protect democratic and human rights for all of Egypt.

That means that after a day of celebrating Mubarak’s resignation, the protesters are cognizant enough that there is hard and important work to be done.  And that means President Obama still has one more chance to do what’s right for Egypt and for the United States.

Human rights activists and the Egyptian protesters have been rightly disappointed so far in his muddled and wavering message and policy.  His call for an “orderly transition” to democracy has been met by Mubarak with stinging rebukes and excuses for further delays.

If one is inclined to have some sympathy for the administration, you can point to this: For 30 years, every American president has known the day when payment for compliance with the region’s autocrats would come due.  Each has at best hoped that they could delay that day to the next president.

Obama is that next president and reversing that history and making it right requires change of our own. It is up to him to stand up to the Washington army of paid hacks and Mubarak retainers who whisper caution, to the other allies in the region who fear change and to the wise men, serious-thinking pundits and religious leaders who see Arab democracy as a phony front for a global caliphate.

Amnesty International’s Human Rights Agenda for Change provides a guide for what he needs to do.  He should make a clear statement that the window for delay has gone, and only specific and immediate action, not promises for down the road will be acceptable.


Egypt: The Change Has to Be Institutional, Has to Be Now

The protests in Egypt erupted in the context of more than 30 years of severe repression © Sarah Carr

In Egypt these days, feelings of elation and dread, are often close together.  Today, elation that Google executive Wael Ghonim was released after almost two weeks of incommunicado detention; dread from news from reporters and other credible sources that former Amnesty International prisoner of conscience Karim Amer had been arrested.

Even as the protesters in Tahrir Square say they feel protected, arrests by security forces occur around the country.  And in the background, negotiations continue to seek a solution to the political crisis. Talks continue between the Mubarak government and opposition groups and between the U.S. government and all Egyptian players.  For many protesters, these talks seem distant from their ability to influence.

It’s easy to understand the protesters concerns. For three decades, this government has muzzled civil society, made torture systematic, restricted the free press and free political association, attacked an independent bar and judiciary and given impunity to police officers.  After all that, the protesters are hearing from many sources, including the U.S. government, that they must give these same people an opportunity to reverse all that.  With the arrests of Amer and others continuing, it’s easy to understand why they believe that won’t happen.

Nevertheless, with the negotiations continuing, Amnesty International’s message remains focused on institutional change that will prevent human rights abuses. We continue to call for solidarity with the Egyptian protesters.  Amnesty International UK is spearheading a Global Day of Solidarity this coming Saturday, Feb. 12.  We hope Amnesty International members around the world will participate in events in their community or sponsor events of their own.  (Contact your regional office to get an Egypt Activist Toolkit.)


Torture and Abuse in Egypt: The North Carolina Connection

N227SV plane used in rendition flights.

N227SV plane used in rendition flights.

News that after five days of protests Omar Suleiman has been named vice president of Egypt is a reminder that the abuses that drove the people into the streets there had too much assistance from America, including right here in my home of North Carolina.

According to journalist Stephen Grey, Suleiman was the Egyptian conduit for the US extraordinary rendition flights closely linked to torture.  Many of those flights took off from an airport in Johnston County, NC, less than an hour from my home in Durham.  Grey’s book Ghost Plane starts with the journey of one such Johnston County flight that led to the rendition and torture of two Egyptian men, one of who was later released without ever being charged with a crime.

Grey writes that Suleiman approved these flights, part of a system of torture that Amnesty International calls systematic.  “Egypt then came in for much criticism,” Grey writes.  “Its record both on human rights and on repressing democracy was lambasted annually by both Congress and the State Department.  But in secret, men like Omar Suleiman … did our work, the sort of work that Western countries have no appetite to do themselves.”

I was also reminded of the Johnston County flights when I received reports this week from people in Cairo of the tear gas canisters being used against them.  Made in the USA, the canisters said.

When you are watching the footage of the Egyptian people in the street, showing their frustration of 30 years of tyranny and abuse, it’s safe and appropriate to feel solidarity with them.  But it’s not enough.  To support the people in Cairo trying to change those abuses, we in the US and in North Carolina must end our own policies and acts that have sustained them.

Take Action and Support the Egyptian People

Update: Tell US Government to press Egypt to rein in security forces

The number one request made by Egyptian activists of allies in other countries is to have their voice heard in solidarity at various Egyptian embassies and consulates.

It’s pretty hard to do when the Egyptian government has shut down the Internet in Egypt and its US embassy public email address isn’t functioning.

Protesters face police in Alexandria. Photography by : Ahmed Ramadan -- Clashes between demonstrators and Egyptian police in Alexandria, because of their opposition to the hereditary rule. They are showing their dissatisfaction with the intention of President Hosni Mubarak to hand over power to his son.

But allies around the United States are not remaining silent, and Amnesty members are looking to assist. With tens of thousands of Egyptians hitting the street across the country today on “Angry Friday,” this is an ideal moment to contact the embassy in the US to express our concerns:

1. For the Egyptian government to allow peaceful demonstrations and rein in their security forces to prevent further deaths and injuries to protestors. No official death total has been released, but the latest reports today have two women being killed when hit in the head by tear gas and another died in Tahir Square. That would bring an unofficial death toll over the past four days to over 10.  In one instance, Amnesty has learned that 22-year-old Ahmed Atef was killed yesterday in North Sinai when security forces in the town of Sheikh Zuweid opened fire on a crowd of more than 1000 demonstrators.

2. Independent legal observers count the number of detained as of Thursday at around 1,200 people.  Many more are being detained today.  These people must have immediate access to legal counsel, family members, be formally charged or release.  They must not be tortured or mistreated.

3. The government must cease all efforts to block the Internet, social media tools or impede the normal flow of communications. In addition, security forces must end reported assaults on numerous reporters, both Egyptian and foreign.  Such actions constitute an outrageous violation of the freedom of speech.

4. End the State of Emergency, which facilitates other human rights abuses such as unfair trials, prolonged administrative detention and the systematic use of torture.

Demonstrations have already been held in San Francisco, New York and DC.  AIUSA’s office has organized a rally outside the consulate in Chicago at noon Saturday, Jan. 29.  For more information on that rally, contact [email protected] and [email protected].  Information about other rallies will be posted as information is available.

But if you don’t live near a consulate, please call and call today to the Egyptian embassy.  Emails sent to its public address are bouncing back, but telephone is working. The address is 3521 International Ct. NW Washington DC 20008. Phone: 202.895.5400.  Fax: 202.244.4319.

A complete list of consulates can be found here.

Finally, there is also US government work to do.  We are receiving reports from Egypt that tear gas canisters and other weapons used against the protesters have been made in the United States.  It is imperative that the U.S. government investigate whether any of this material has been used in a manner that would violate the Leahy Law or other regulations that prohibit the use of US aid to violate human rights.

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.