Updates on the Tora Prison hunger strike

The government has partially met one of the hunger-strikers’ demands, while prison authorities continued cracking down, as other detainees joined the strike in a revolving door fashion.
Hours after the detainees started their strike on Sunday, Mohamed el-Sharqawi was referred to the forensic medical department, where he was examined and x-rayed. On Monday, he was provided with basic medical treatment at the prison hospital. Continue reading Updates on the Tora Prison hunger strike

Lobster, grilled fish (12)

May 31, 2006

The other day I got to experience one of the few perks of the job out here and attended a monthly lunch for journalists thrown by Baghdad division commander, Major General J.D. Thurman of the 4th Infantry Division.

I had to use his name in a story once and asked a subordinate what the “J” stood for and he blanched and said he’d have to get back to me. J.D.’s a beefy fellow from Oklahoma who describes himself as a “straight shooter” who just wants to touch base with us folks every month or so.

I’ll give him this, he put on an impressive spread of t-bone steaks, lobster, shrimp and grilled chicken (where does this stuff come from?) before subjecting himself to our barrage of questions about why this place is such a mess.

Continue reading Lobster, grilled fish (12)

The Ikhwan and the money

Right now, the Brotherhood has other problems, with continuous arrests taking place and PM Nazif thinking that they should not be in parliament in first place.

But a while ago, I thought it was time to document what the Brotherhood thinks about how to regulate the Egyptian economy. After all, with 88 seats in the People’s assembly, they are the second strongest political force in the country and possibly the most popular one. After their surprisingly strong showing in the parliamentary elections, I also heard a number of people in the Egyptian business community already voicing concerns, with corporate HQs abroad calling their Egyptian operations to find out whether their business would still be safe.

I rather thought it might be time to look for alternatives to an economic policies of the NDP, which as a whole, despite some decent reform measures of the economic reform ministers, is still catering to certain interest groups, combined with a state bureaucracy that all too often shelves good initiatives coming out of the cabinet.

Below is an excerpt of my piece on the Brotherhood’s economic policies, the full text can be read here.

As far back as the 1980s, years before the Egyptian government actually implemented a programme of privatisation that was forced on them by the international community, the Muslim Brotherhood demanded a less marked public sector and more support for small companies. The organisation champions the free market economy.

As a result of their moral standpoint, two points in particular are at the heart of their economic theories. It must be said that these two points are indeed the key weaknesses of the Egyptian economy: high unemployment and corruption. According to the OECD, unemployment in Egypt currently stands at over 17 per cent.

HRW calls for investigating assaults on pro-democracy detainees

The US-based rights watchdog has slammed the Egyptian government, in a statement today, over the torture of Mohamed el-Sharqawi and Karim el-Sha3er, calling for an independent judicial investigation into the incident, and asked Hosni Mubarak to “put a stop to repeated outrages by agents of the state.�

Egypt: Police Severely Beat Pro-Democracy Activists  One Activist Also Sexually Assaulted   

  (Cairo, May 31, 2006) – President Hosni Mubarak should immediately order an independent judicial investigation into last Thursday’s severe beatings by security agents of political activists Karim al-Sha`ir and Mohamed al-Sharqawi, Human Rights Watch said today. Police also sexually assaulted al-Sharqawi, according to a written statement he smuggled out of prison.

On May 25, agents of the State Security Investigations (SSI) bureau of the Interior Ministry arrested al-Sha`ir and al-Sharqawi as they were leaving a peaceful demonstration in downtown Cairo. Both men said they were beaten in custody.

“The Egyptian government must investigate these attacks and punish the perpetrators,� said Joe Stork, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa division at Human Rights Watch. “President Mubarak should put a stop to repeated outrages by agents of the state.�

In his statement, al-Sharqawi wrote that his captors at the Qasr al-Nil police station beat him for hours and then raped him with a cardboard tube. Then they sent him to the State Security prosecutor’s office in Heliopolis. His lawyer told Human Rights Watch that he saw al-Sharqawi at the prosecutor’s office around midnight that night. “There wasn’t a single part of his body not covered in bruises and gashes,� the lawyer said.

Eyewitnesses told Human Rights Watch that security agents beat al-Sha`ir in the street. According to his lawyer, al-Sha`ir said that the beatings continued once he was in police custody.

The State Security prosecutor ordered both men to be held for 15 days pending investigations. The authorities had released al-Sharqawi and al-Sha`ir from Tora prison on May 22 after detaining them in earlier protests on April 24 and May 7 respectively. The demonstration on May 25 commemorated the one-year anniversary of widespread violence by police and ruling party thugs against journalists and demonstrators urging a boycott of a constitutional referendum.

Al-Sharqawi wrote in his statement that around 20 State Security officers surrounded him as he attempted to leave last week’s protest by car and began beating him furiously: “Their punches and kicks came one after the other… There were moments of so much pain, so many insults, so many blows… targeting all my body.â€� Al-Sharqawi wrote that he was stuffed into a police van, after which “they ordered me to put my head between my knees. Of course I obeyed. As soon as I did, they started hitting me on my back with all their strength.â€�

Al-Sharqawi, though blindfolded, believes he was taken to the Qasr al-Nil police station because of communications he heard over the police radios. “Inside the police station,� he wrote, “the beatings targeted particular places.� One of the officers ordered al-Sharqawi’s pants to be removed and began squeezing his left testicle, causing excruciating pain.

“The pain was terrible. He kept doing it for three minutes, during which I was screaming and asking him to stop so I could catch my breath. He pulled my underwear down, tore it to pieces, and kept hitting me on different parts of my body. They ordered me to bend over. I refused, but they forced me.� Al-Sharqawi said the officers then sodomized him with a roll of cardboard.

Gamal Eid, a lawyer for al-Sharqawi and al-Sha`ir, told Human Rights Watch that when he saw al-Sharqawi that night,

His lips were swollen and bloody, his eyes were nearly swollen shut, and you could see the imprints of shoes on his skin. He told me the beatings had continued for nearly three hours and that he had been unable to reply to police questioning because his mouth was full of blood and his lips were too swollen. It was pure sadism. I hadn’t seen anyone that badly tortured in 12 years.

Eid said that he asked the prosecutor, Muhammad Faisal, to allow a doctor he had brought with him to examine and treat al-Sharqawi, but that the prosecutor refused. The authorities only allowed al-Sharqawi access to medical treatment four days later, on May 29.

Al-Sha`ir was leaving the protest by car at around 4:45 p.m. in the company of three journalists and another activist. Dina Samak, a BBC journalist, was driving. “As we were leaving the Journalists’ Syndicate, Jihan [Sha`ban, a journalist for Sawt al-Umma and Al-Karama] asked if we could drop her and Karim [al-Sha`ir] off downtown,� she told Human Rights Watch.

As we left the garage of the syndicate, a State Security officer pointed at our car and a taxi started chasing us. About 20 meters later, the taxi pulled in front of us, blocking the street so we couldn’t continue. We were afraid. Everyone in the car locked their doors and closed their windows. Karim was shouting not to let them get him. Around 20 men in civilian clothes surrounded the car and started shouting “stop the car, you bitch,� and all kinds of horrible insults. They threw Karim on the ground and started beating him violently.

Dina Gamil, another BBC journalist, was also in the car. “Around 20 men surrounded the car and smashed the windows with rocks and bottles,� she told Human Rights Watch.

They unlocked the doors through the smashed window and opened them. They pulled Jihan halfway out of the car so her head was on the ground. They tried to pull me out, too, but I had my seatbelt on…. They got Karim out of the car and threw him on the ground. When a crowd formed and judges started coming out of the Judges’ Club to see what was happening, the security agents threw Karim in a car.

Sha`ban confirmed this account to Human Rights Watch and said she is suffering from back pain from the officers’ assault. 

Eid told Human Rights Watch that when he saw al-Sha`ir at the Heliopolis office of the State Security prosecutor later that night, he also bore marks of beatings.

On May 27, a group of prisoners detained over the past month for participating in peaceful demonstrations in solidarity with reformist judges announced they were beginning a hunger strike to protest the treatment of al-Sharqawi and al-Sha`ir, and to demand the release of all those held for participating in the recent demonstrations. On May 30, visitors to the prison reported that 13 hunger strikers had been transferred to solitary confinement.

Syndicate news…

Gamal Tag el-Din, Lawyers’ Syndicate council member, is holding tomorrow Wednesday 11am a press conference on the democracy detainees, at the syndicate’s conference hall.

Tag is a Muslim Brotherhood activist, who played a major role in publicizing the infamous “Blacklist of Judges,� that included the names of pro-government judges accused of rigging the vote during last November parliamentary elections. He’s currently facing slander charges together with three other journalists.

Judges Mahmoud Mekki and Mahmoud el-Khodeiri are speaking also tomorrow Wednesday, 7pm at the Press Syndicate.

Tora Prison authorities crackdown as hunger strike escalates

The Prison authorities cracked down on the hunger-striking detainees in Tora, as the strike escalated, with 13 activists in total taking action on its second day.

The strike started on Saturday night/Sunday morning, with six detainees in Mahkoum Tora, refusing to eat. The prisoners, according to activist and legal sources, made it clear to the prison authorities the strike was not directed against them, but against State Security’s brutal treatment of Mohamed el-Sharqawi, demanding his medical examination, an investigation into to the torture incident, and the release of all pro-judges detainees.

“By torturing Sharqawi,� detainee Wael Khalil was quoted by an activist who visited him today, “State Security was sending a message to us ‘This is what awaits you if you decide to take to the streets again after your release.’�

The prison authorities on the first day of the hunger strike, moved the six detainees into solitary confinement cells.

The Mahkoum Tora “is an old prison. These solitary confinement cells do not meet the legal standards specified by human rights treaties,� the detainees’ lawyer Gamal Eid said. “The ventilation is horrible. There is no water, no toilets.� Kamal Khalil, director of the Center for Socialist Studies who’s suffering from respiratory problems, was transferred to the prison hospital yesterday, Eid added.

When protesting the solitary confinement of their colleagues, the prison authorities notified the detainees they were acting on orders from State Security Police, Wael Khalil was reported as saying by the activist who visited him.

Faced with that, seven more detainees joined the hunger strike, instead of two as originally scheduled, on the following day including:

1-Karim el-Sha3er

2-Ashraf Ibrahim

3-Bahaa Saber

4-3emad Sho3eib

5-Ahmad Maher

6-3adel el-Gazzar

7-Nael Abdel Hamid

Since there were only 10 solitary confinement cells in Mahkoum Tora, the first three above-mentioned prisoners were moved to another prison complex, said to be Mazra3et Tora.

According to Eid and an activist source, Sharqawi’s health is still in a critical level, suffering from unbearable chest pains. Eid said however, the authorities finally transferred his detained client to the forensic medical department on Sunday, and provided basic medical treatment at the prison hospital yesterday.

Demonstration planned in front of Qasr el-Nil police station

The Hisham Mubarak Law Center has called for a demonstration in front of Qasr el-Nil Police Station, (located in Garden City, downtown Cairo) on Thursday, 5pm, to protest the torture of Mohamed el-Sharqawi and Karim el-Sha3er, the two Youth for Change activists.

The announcement came during a press conference held by the Liberties’ Committee at the Cairo Lawyer’s Syndicate Saturday, where Kefaya leaders and rights lawyers denounced the recent arrest and torture of democracy activists. Moreover, they called on the General Prosecutor to open an investigation into the incident, accusing the State Security Prosecutor’s office of complicity with State Security police, by stalling Sharqawi’s medical examination, in an effort to conceal as much possible of the torture marks on his body.

Muslim Brotherhood activist, Mohamed Abdel Qoddous, also announced the postponement of Tuesday’s protest at the Doctors’ syndicate to Thursday, 7pm.

A second Alex?

At the WEF in Sharm last week, Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif fed the national press with some projects to be announced soon, in tourism, real estate and transportation, which will mostly be financed by UAE or Kuwait based investment groups. I am under the impression that the government over the past months has focused its efforts to attract foreign investment to Gulf investors.

An oil price at around $70 per barrel is a solid reason for the government to do so, but now they are exaggerating:

Gulf and Egyptian investors were planning to develop a $US40 billion ($53billion) tourist resort on the coast of northern Egypt, an Egyptian official said.

“It will be the biggest Arab construction project in Egypt,” covering more than 100 million square metres, government spokesman Magdy Rady said.

He did not name any of the investors involved in the project, details of which will be released in mid-June.

The consortium planning the resort included companies from the United Arab Emirates, and the signing ceremony in June would be attended by Dubai’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, Al-Ahram said yesterday, citing Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif.

Al-Akhbar eported that the resort would be as big as Alexandria, Egypt’s second-largest city, and take 20 years to build.

Is there no more space in the Emirates for mega-projects? To me this looks like Egypt is now the Sheikhs’ mega playing ground. A few weeks ago, there were some press reports that Gulf investors wanted to invest no less then $4billions in an ArabDisneyland in Egypt, providing jobs for half a million young Egyptians.

This was denied by Disneyland -  looks like Mickey Mouse has a better sense of reality then some of those oil investors at the moment.

Letter from Sharqawi

Mohamed el-Sharqawi has sent a testimony on his arrest and torture, from Tora Prison.

Here’s the English translation of it:

A Letter from Mohamed el-Sharqawi

Kidnapped on 25 May, Currently in Cell 8-1, Mahkoum Tora

How I was kidnapped, beaten and tortured for eight hours?

I went through many moments of fear and horror in my life, but nothing was like those I went through after I left the Press Syndicate on 25 May, 2006, around 6pm. I got into one of my colleagues’ car, to take a ride to the train station, so as to catch the train to Alexandria. I wanted to see my family, after a period by no means short—30 days—behind bars in Tora Prison.

The car stopped at the traffic light of Abdel Khaleq Tharwat St. crossing Talaat Harb St. I wasn’t paying attention, till my colleague screamed, “Who are those?!� I looked around me, and behind the windows there were tens of men in plain clothes trying to open the door. I could only think of one thing in few seconds… State Security personnel had come to kidnap me… I threw whatever I was carrying in the car, and opened the door, only to be met with a violent push into the entrance of the last building on Abdel Khaleq Tharwat St., before it crosses Talaat Harb St.

The fiesta started. They introduced themselves to me by their swift fists, till one of them kicked me to the floor. There was about 20 persons or more. Their punches and kicks came one after the other, and without much planning, which led them to kick one another, because they were all keen to do anything that props them up in front of their bosses. I could not recognize any of the faces, but three. I had seen them before several times in demos. Continue reading Letter from Sharqawi

Statement by the Tora detainees

Statement by Detainees in Tora Prison

Released 27 May 2006

We, the detained in Tora Prison, charged of insulting the president and blocking the traffic, condemn police violence, the kidnap and torture of our colleagues Mohamed el-Sharkawy and Karim el-Sha’er, and condemn the complicity of the Regime Security Prosecution (formerly known as State Security Prosecution).


The regime has now two agents of torture: the State Security police and the State Security prosecution, which is the regime’s tool in oppressing and torturing the opposition, which has previously closed the files of all torture cases, and which has blocked the examination of Mohamed el-Sharakawy by forensic medicine in the hope that the signs of torture would resolve.

The regime’s resort to thuggery is evidence of its weakness, and shows how close we are to the day when we rid ourselves from it, the day of Egypt’s liberation. Our continued detention proves the regime’s fear and terror of people’s opposition to its corruption, dictatorship and its systematic destruction of the country.

We announce the beginning of an open escalating hunger strike until our demands are met:

1. Examination of our colleagues by forensic medicine

2. Investigation into the kidnap and torture of our colleagues, bringing State Security officers involved to justice and exposure of the complicity of the prosecution and its crime of closing torture cases and refusing forensic medical examination of the injured.

3. Release of all detainees in the solidarity movement with the judiciary.


Together, until torture criminals are brought to justice

List of strikers on the 1st day: Kamal Khalil, Saher Gad, Ahmed Abdel Gawad, Karim Mohamed Reda, Ihab Mohamed Idris, and Sameh Said

List of strikers on the 2nd day: Ahmed Maher and Nael Abdel Hamid

Hunger Strike organizing committee: Gamal Abdel Fattah, Wael Khalil, Ibrahim el-Sahary