Egyptian torture NGO under threat

Speaking of crackdowns in Egypt, it seems that NGOs working on torture are also being targeted:

CAIRO, Sept 13 (Reuters) – Egypt has told a rights group that aids torture victims it will be shut down for financial misdeeds, the group said on Thursday, in what activists called a government effort to quash criticism.

The Association for Human Rights Legal Aid (AHRLA) said it had received notice it was being dissolved and its assets seized over accusations it had accepted foreign funding without government approval. AHRLA denied any wrongdoing.

Egyptian and international human rights groups dismissed the accusations as political cover for an attempt to silence a group that has raised embarrassing torture cases in court. Government officials had no immediate comment.

More info in Arabic after the jump on planned demo in support on AHRLA.
Continue reading Egyptian torture NGO under threat

Video shows child victim of torture in Egypt

The video below, updated to Google Video by, a Muslim Brotherhood website, shows an interview with a child and his mother, who say he was tortured in a police station in Mansoura, northern Egypt. The video is graphic and shows the child’s burn wounds and other injuries. As horrible as these scenes are, it is videos like these (and the internet technologies to deliver them) that are lifting the veil on the type of police brutality that is apparently routine in Egypt.

Again, proceed with caution due to the graphic nature of the footage.

Update: I didn’t realize it at the time of my earlier post, but the boy in the video has died from his wounds. (I had read about the scandal last week, but did not put two and two together.) From what I gathered from various online sources, the boy was quickly buried by the police before a proper autopsy could be carried out. Human rights activists called for his body to be exhumed and a new autopsy carried out, and Mansoura police to be charged:

Egypt to exhume boy’s body

Cairo – Egypt’s chief prosecutor has ordered the exhumation of the body of a teenager who died in police custody amid family allegations he was tortured to death, said reports.

A new autopsy would be carried out on 13-year-old Mamduh Abdel Aziz, who died in hospital in the Nile Delta town of Mansura on Sunday, four days after police took him there because he lost consciousness while in their custody on a theft charge.

His family immediately filed a complaint against police, claiming they tortured him to death.

The police report said he died of a lung complaint, and the interior ministry denied any torture, saying that burns on his body were accidental.

However, a legal source said on Sunday that the boy had lost consciousness during his six days in police detention, apparently after being beaten.

Related: Egyptian cops find torture kit. What a country.

Nasty Iran, Persepolis

Activists’ parents accuse Tehran of torturing their sons:

Fears that Iran is systematically mistreating political prisoners and dissidents have been further fuelled after the parents of three detained student activists claimed their sons had been tortured.
In a letter to the country’s judiciary chief, Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, the parents alleged that the students have suffered a catalogue of physical and psychological abuses since being incarcerated in Tehran’s Evin prison in May.

Two weeks ago I got to see the animated feature version of Persepolis. One of the things I drives home very effectively is that the fundamentalist regime in Iran has been much, much worse in terms of human rights and torture (never mind personal freedoms) than the old Shah regime, with its notorious CIA-trained SAVAK security service, ever was. Even more so, the film makes a very effective point in showing how fundamentally retarded that government was, much like any government that seeks to police the private moral life of its citizens — in other words, an extreme version of what the “secular” regimes in many Arab countries have resorted to. Think of Egypt, and those trials to forcibly divorce public figures judged to be apostates, or the current contradictory statements of the Mufti, or among the opposition of the ridiculous moral crusades regularly brought out by the likes of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt or the PJD and its supporters (such as at-tajdid newspaper) in Morocco.

WWII mines Egypt

I have this article on on the WWII mines and other ammunition left behind on Egypt’s North coast. The Egyptian government wants to re-launch its efforts to clear the zones that are affected, but wants to have it all paid for by its international donors.

As Egypt has brought to perfection the art of donor-shopping probably more then any other nation, I guess in the end they’ll find someone stupid enough to pay the bills submitted by the Egyptian army.

In contrast to what appears to be common in other countries, the Egyptian army maintains its monopoly over mine-clearing. Which is why not much has happened until today and which is why most donors rightfully so are reluctant to contribute.

Excerpt from the English translation:

It was not until 1982 that the Egyptian government acknowledged the problem. “It was a question of costs and priorities,” Fathy El Shazly, director of the national northwest coast development program, frankly admits.

He refers to the history of his country, which after the Second World War was first busy gaining independence and then tied up in four wars against Israel. A bit more haste would have been advisable, though.

According to the NGO “Landmine Monitor,” there have been 8,313 mine-related casualties in this region since 1982, including 619 deaths. As can be observed again and again whenever natural disasters or accidents occur, however, the Egyptian government evidently does not place much importance on its own citizens. It has done little to help the victims to date.

The Egyptian army did clear some 3.5 million pieces of ammunition out of the desert between 1982 and 1999, but since then a lack of funds has slowed down their efforts – at least that’s the official line.

Since things are moving much too slowly for the private sector, which has great plans for the region, some hotels and oil companies have begun to remove buried ammunition at their own expense in order to build access roads to their projects.

The Quranists

I haven’t had time lately to look into the arrests of several members of a “Quranist” group — people who reject the hadith and present a reformist practice of Islam based entirely on the Quran — but as well as being a blatant violation of freedom of belief, there seems to be several other overlapping elements here. One is that at least one of the Quranists, Amr Tharwat, is involved in the pro-democracy NGO Ibn Khaldun Center, run by the prominent Egyptian-American liberal Saad Eddin Ibrahim. Tharwat was involved in election monitoring.

The other is that the arrests could be a response to the Quranists’ mockery of al-Azhar recent fatwas about urine-drinkling and adult breastfeeding, which cause a furore here last month and put the august institution on the defensive. By al-Azhar’s Sunni standards, the Quranists’ beliefs are highly unorthodox if not downright sacrilegious (I don’t know enough about the Quranists to be sure). So what we are seeing here is yet another form of the state Islamism that has become rampant in Egypt since the 1970s. Who needs to worry about the Muslim Brotherhood when you already have bigots in power?

I’ve pasted some statements about this case below, with links to the Quranists’ website.

Continue reading The Quranists

US considering engaging Muslim Brothers?

The rabidly Zionist, MEMRI outlet, New York Sun has an interesting piece by Eli Lake, a reporter formerly based in Cairo who knows the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, about how the State Dept. and other US agencies are considering engaging with the MB. Robert Leiken, who recently wrote a Foreign Affairs piece advocating engagement (see posts on that here and here), participated in the findings.

Today the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research will host a meeting with other representatives of the intelligence community to discuss opening more formal channels to the brothers. Earlier this year, the National Intelligence Council received a paper it had commissioned on the history of the Muslim Brotherhood by a scholar at the Nixon Center, Robert Leiken, who is invited to the State Department meeting today to present the case for engagement. On April 7, congressional leaders such as Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the Democratic whip, attended a reception where some representatives of the brothers were present. The reception was hosted at the residence in Cairo of the American ambassador to Egypt, Francis Ricciardone, a decision that indicates a change in policy.

The National Security Council and State Department already meet indirectly with the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood through discussions with a new Syrian opposition group created in 2006 known as the National Salvation Front. Meanwhile, Iraq’s vice president, Tariq al-Hashemi, is a leader of Iraq’s chapter of the Muslim Brotherhood. His party, known as the Iraqi Islamic Party, has played a role in the Iraqi government since it was invited to join the Iraqi Governing Council in 2003.

These developments, in light of Hamas’s control of Gaza, suggest that President Bush — who has been careful to distinguish the war on terror from a war on Islam — has done more than any of his predecessors to accept the movement fighting for the merger of mosque and state in the Middle East.

I personally think Leiken has a tendency to put the various Muslim Brotherhoods in the same basket. Whatever the links between them, they are clearly separate entities with local leaderships and warrant different approaches from the US. For instance, from a practical standpoint the US is forced to deal with the MB in Iraq, and from a political one engaging the Syrian MB makes sense if one is pursuing a policy of regime change in Damascus, particularly as exile Syrian groups have relationships with the Syrian MB. In Egypt, the situation is quite different: engagement with the MB has been extremely cautious, restricted to parliamentarians and is subject to close scrutiny from a regime that is close to Washington. In Palestine, engagement with Hamas is left to countries like Egypt since dealing with Hamas directly would contravene every ideological tenet the Bush administration holds dear, and presumably anger their neocon friends.

However, there are signs that the Egyptian MB can be useful: last week, reports emerged that Fatah’s strongman in Gaza and US-Israeli tool Muhammad Dahlan (who is blamed even by his Egyptian intelligence handlers for starting the recent violence in Gaza) had sent out an emissary to MB Supreme Guide Muhammad Akef, asking him to reach out to Hamas. The Egyptian intelligence services have used Akef’s good offices with Hamas for a while now, it seems, and despite the ongoing crackdown against the MB domestically, the regime realizes they can be useful (and perhaps the MB hopes to win some lenience in return), even if the MB’s official support for the Hamas government clashes with Egypt’s decision to only recognize the Fatah-backked Fayyad government in the West Bank (and Egypt’s help in making sure Hamas leaders cannot leave Gaza and other forms of coordination of the blockade with the Israelis, even if some Israelis are unhappy.)

It’s also worthwhile noting that Hamas is making an attempt to get the US to engage directly with them — note that Ismail Haniyeh’s advisor Ahmed Youssef had op-eds in both the NYT and WaPo yesterday advocating engagement and defending Hamas’ democratic credentials. Hamas has also been making noise about negotiating the release of of BBC journalist Alan Johnston (what were they waiting for, anyway?)

In the context of this debate about engaging the various Muslim Brotherhoods, it’s worth highlighting that Human Rights Watch has put up interviews of Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood detainees who were imprisoned and tortured by the Egyptian security services. It’s a novel and unusual attempt by an establishment institution to put a human face on the MB, which tends not to make front-page news when its members are (routinely) arrested and mistreated. HRW is not only defending their human rights, but also the MB’s freedom of association and expression, which is bound to make many in Cairo (and not just in government) unhappy. The full list of interviews is on the page linked above, but here’s a YouTube version of the interview with Mahmoud Izzat, the Secretary-General of the MB, recalling the brutal 1965 wave of arrests, which was widely credited for radicalizing a part of the MB and creating the spinoff groups that would become Islamic Jihad, and ultimately join al-Qaeda.

State Department: Human trafficking report

Most of the Gulf countries have made it onto the Tier 3 list (those countries with the worst record in human trafficking, according to the report) of the State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report 2007: Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. UAE is on the Tier 2 watch list.

So is Egypt. From the report:

Egypt is a transit country for women trafficked from Uzbekistan, Moldova, Ukraine, Russia, and other
Eastern European countries to Israel for the purpose of sexual exploitation, and may be a source for
children trafficked internally for commercial sexual exploitation and domestic servitude. Reports indicate
that some of Cairo’s estimated 1 million street children — both girls and boys — are exploited in

I’m surprised at this large number of street children in Cairo. Does anyone have other sources on this?

In addition, wealthy men from the Gulf reportedly travel to Egypt to purchase “temporary
marriages� with Egyptian women, including in some cases girls who are under age 18, often apparently as
a front for commercial sexual exploitation facilitated by the females’ parents and marriage brokers.

What I also heard is that Cairo’s chronically underfunded state-run orphanages are using this to make some extra money (or their employees).

The full report can be downloaded here.

CoE report documents rendition program

More fine reporting by Stephen Grey, who literally wrote the book on rendition, about the upcoming Council of Europe findings on the CIA flights in Europe:

Although suspicions about the secret CIA prisons have existed for more than a year, the council’s report, seen by the Guardian, appears to offer the first concrete evidence. It also details the prisons’ operations and the identities of some of the prisoners.

The council has also established that within weeks of the 9/11 attacks, Nato signed an agreement with the US that allowed civilian jets used by the CIA during its so-called extraordinary rendition programme to move across member states’ airspace. Its report states: “We have sufficient grounds to declare that the highest state authorities were aware of the CIA’s illegal activities on their territories.” The council’s investigators believe that agreement may have been illegal.

. . .

The 19-month inquiry by the council, which promotes human rights across Europe, was headed by Dick Marty, a Swiss senator and former state prosecutor. He said: “What was previously just a set of allegations is now proven: large numbers of people have been abducted from various locations across the world and transferred to countries where they have been persecuted and where it is known that torture is common practice.”

His report says there is “now enough evidence to state that secret detention facilities run by the CIA [existed] in Europe from 2003 to 2005, in particular in Poland and Romania”.

Yet another reason I think the EU should have never expanded to include Eastern European countries.

Update: Also see HRW’s backgrounder on U.S. Responsibility for Enforced Disappearances in the “War on Terror”.

‘125 Release Orders’ and Still Detained

When opposition politicians and rights groups complained that amendments to Egypt’s constitution would enshrine the Emergency Law in the Constitution by giving police free rein to arrest, search, and spy on citizens without judicial warrants, some government officials responded with the line, “You just need to trust us. These powers are only for legitimate investigations into terrorism cases” (paraphrasing here). It was a line the Bush administration had previously used to respond to criticisms of the PATRIOT Act.

Last week, Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated MP Farid Ismail petitioned Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif and Interior Minister Habib al-Adli regarding a case that neatly illustrates why the “trust us” line doesn’t work. Security forces arrested five kids, some of them as young as 15, from the al-Sharqiyya governorate in the Nile Delta on suspicion of belonging to Islamic Jihad following the 1997 terrorist attacks in Luxor. In the 10 years since, Ismail said, magistrates have ordered their release 125 times each, saying there was no evidence to keep them detained. No matter. A decade later, they are still in prison.

Now, I’m in favor of locking up people who want to blow up innocent people. And I can understand that in the wake of a big terrorist attack, you might want to err on the side of caution. But you’ve got to do it in a way that ensures that you get the right people, and that lets innocent people caught up in the sweep get back to their lives, ideally with compensation (though how do you compensate someone who’s spent a week with electrodes on his tongue, nipples, and genitals? Mawlish doesn’t quite cover it). This is why the legal protections are so important. I have no idea if these five are innocent, but 125 release orders (times five is what? 625) from magistrates who have seen all the evidence strongly suggests that they are.

If the good people working for Egypt’s stability and security won’t respect what slender legal protections exist today, how are we supposed to “trust them” when those legal protections are gone?

Right. Apologies for the rant, but this is a particularly outrageous case.