In what has become routine, every week Egyptian police forces kill and detain protesters opposed to the current military regime, led by Defense Minister General Abdel-Fattah El-Sissi. Seventeen people were killed by the police after the weekly Friday marches against military rule on January 3 — a toll that no longer elicits surprised responses from many Egyptians.
Among the ever-growing number of political detainees in Egyptian jails are students, activists and journalists — including girls as young as 17. Some of these detainees are prominent figures, such as Alaa Abdel-Fattah, Ahmed Maher, Ahmed Douma, Mohamed Adel and renowned Muslim Brotherhood leaders, while many more are unknown. They have been subjected to torture, abuse, harassment, and according to Al Jazeera, some female detainees have also been raped.
Hundreds of these detainees have been on hunger strike since December 23, protesting mistreatment inside prison. According to the Muslim Brotherhood’s website, Ikhwan Online, more than 450 Brotherhood members are undertaking this hunger strike against “inhumane treatment,” including Brotherhood leaders, such as former parliamentarian Mohamed Al-Beltagy, who has been kept in solitary confinement. In a phone interview, Ministry of Interior representative Hany Abdel Latif denied that there is a hunger strike.
Universities have been particularly common sites for police brutality. Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, where rioting students have called for a boycott of their final year examinations, has been under siege by Ministry of Interior forces for days at a time. Police have used birdshots, tear gas and live ammunition inside the university against students. Dozens of students have been killed and many more have been arbitrarily detained on university grounds and in dormitories.
According to Al-Azhar’s Students Against the Coup movement, the crackdown on female protesters and students has become especially severe — with girls getting beaten, dragged on the ground, and pulled by their hijabs and hair. One Al-Azhar student claimed she heard the police say, “rape the girls you arrest,” and “you will be pregnant by the time you get out of here.” On January 12, a female Azhar student was killed after a sniper shot her in the head, according to the Azhar Students Against the Coup movement.
The crackdown has worsened since July 3, 2013, when General Abdel-Fattah El-Sissi, who was ironically put into office by Mohammed Morsi, ousted the former Muslim Brotherhood president. El-Sissi claimed to be heeding the demands of the millions who took to the streets on June 30. He was backed by all of the old regime’s state institutions in what official discourse was called a revolution, but what the opposition refers to as a coup.
Protesters who opposed the military ouster of Mohammed Morsi had demonstrated in sit-ins in Cairo’s Rab’aa Al-Adaweya and Nahda Squares, and were the target of series of state massacres. The crackdown in front of the Presidential Guard and Nasr City’s Manasa, which claimed the lives of over 200 people, paved the way for more bloodshed.
The largest massacre took place on August 14, 2013, when police and the military forcibly ended the two sit-ins in Rab’aa Al-Adaweyya and Nahda Squares in what they called a “legal dispersal,” and what Human Rights Watch described as “the most serious incident of mass unlawful killings in modern Egyptian history.” Thousands were killed, detained and injured.
Since then, the state has consistently repressed all forms of demonstrations, protests or marches. More recently, the 85-year-old Muslim Brotherhood has been declared a “terrorist organization,” and laws have been made declaring any participation in a “Muslim Brotherhood protest” to be a punishable act. Many activists expect this law to be utilized anyone opposed to the military.
“Those supportive of the coup continue to describe the anti-coup protest movement as tiny, insignificant, dwindling and exclusively Brotherhood-oriented, in spite of government policy to contain protests,” said American University in Cairo professor Mohamad Elmasry. “They introduced a law effectively prohibiting protest — decreeing a five-year prison sentence for anyone who participates in a protest and the death sentence for anyone who leads a protest.”
“For six months,” he continued, “the government has made sure that anti-coup protesters cannot take over Tahrir Square. If the protest movement is so puny, why the laws, why the attempts to keep people out of Tahrir, and why the fear of a free and fair election?”
Ahmed Samir has protested alongside the Muslim Brotherhood, but is not a member. He divides his time between organizing at his university and helping the distressed families of his detained friends. “The only reason I protest is because I cannot see my friends being locked up and silenced,” he explained. “I’m not protesting for anyone. I’m protesting for justice, honor and truth — not for the Brotherhood.”
His 19-year-old friend, Abdel Rahman El-Fakharani, has been detained since August 16, for taking photographs at the Ramsees protests, which took place two days after the dispersal of the Rab’aa sit-in. He is participating in the hunger strike at Abu Za’baal prison by only eating the food his family brings him on their weekly visits.
Nadine Hosny, a university student who has been active in student movement work over the past three years, represents another segment of revolutionary youth called the Third Square, which opposes both the Muslim Brotherhood and the military. Feeling frustrated and helpless, she said that, “there is no constructive activism going on these days.”
“At this point, we cannot really do anything,” she added. “On the one hand, there is this fascist government and the return of the police state, and on the other hand, the Muslim Brotherhood is not willing to listen and is not allowing anyone to help them.”
“Dealing with the trauma of what has come to be of the revolution,” Hosny said, “is the most difficult part.”
Mariam Hazem, another active university student, said that it seems like the police forces “do whatever they feel like.” Her 17-year-old cousin has been detained for more than three weeks, despite being under age. She has been forced to sit in a cell at Al-Qanater prison with prostitutes who verbally harass and hit her. The policemen refused to allow her friends to give her school papers so that she could study, saying “we do not want anyone educated.” According to her family, she — along with several other female detainees — was also forced to take a pregnancy test.
“Despite this,” Hazem said, “my cousin remains very optimistic. She is almost always smiling when we visit her.”
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