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Egypt's Stillborn Revolution

Posted: 22/11/2011 13:11

When I was in Tahrir Square in April there were still banners in the square declaring "The army and the people are one". Those days are now long gone.

The severity of the security forces' response to demonstrators in Tahrir Square these past days has laid bare the huge divisions between most ordinary Egyptians and the military elite running the country.

The main charge from the protestors is that nine months of effective rule by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has essentially led to a revolution stillborn. By any measure, the protestors have a point.

A new report from Amnesty today summarises some of the many failings of SCAF rule.

These include: massive use of military trials for civilians (12,000 cases in the first six months alone), a new law criminalising strikes (Law 34), moves to intimidate journalists, including bloggers, expansion of the much-criticised Emergency Law widely used under Hosni Mubarak's presidency, extremely violent and reckless methods to suppress protesters (including armoured vehicles being driven at unarmed people in the street), the torture of people in detention, including with electric cattle prods and with "virginity tests" for women and the political sidelining of women.

Any one of these taken singly would be cause for genuine concern. Taken together they amount to a massive betrayal of the hopes of the '25 January' revolution.

On 13 February, just two days after the 'Day of Departure' and Mubarak's resignation, the SCAF issued this ringing proclamation:

"The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces believes that human freedom, the rule of law, support for the value of equality, pluralistic democracy, social justice, and the uprooting of corruption are the bases [sic] for the legitimacy of any system of governance that will lead the country in the upcoming period".

Fine words, but it is frankly impossible to square these sentiments with the reality of the three-quarters of a year that has now elapsed in Egypt since Mubarak went.

Two cases - out of thousands - help spell out the human impact of all this.

On 10 April, the well-known blogger Maikel Nabil Sanad, was sentenced by a military court to three years in prison for his criticism of the military's use of force against protesters in Tahrir Square and his objection to military service. In October, a military appeals court ordered his retrial; he continues to be detained and has now been on hunger strike for a full two months (it began on 23 August).

Meanwhile, on 1 March, a 32-year-old man called Amr Abdallah Al-Beheiry was sentenced by a military court to five years on charges of breaking a curfew and assaulting a public official.

He had been arrested three days earlier when military police and the army broke up a protest outside the parliament building in Cairo. During this crackdown (which came just two weeks after Mubarak's exit), numerous protesters were arrested and subjected to beatings and electric shocks.

All of these were later released, but Amr was rearrested shortly afterwards, apparently because protesters had filmed his injuries. His trial lasted just a few minutes and the court refused to allow the lawyer his family had chosen into the session, instead assigning its own lawyer to the case.

He was then transferred to Wadi El-Gedid Prison, where Amr told his brother that he and other prisoners were beaten and not allowed to leave their cells, except once a day to use the toilet. He is currently serving his sentence in Wadi El-Natroun Prison, where he's been placed with prisoners convicted of murder, drug-trafficking and other serious crimes.

At some fundamental level, the senior echelons of Egypt's armed forced seem unable to grasp the essentials of a pluralistic state which respects human rights. For example, in July a SCAF member, Major-General Mamdouh Shaheen, said "anyone who discusses something related to the armed forces without written consent from the general command of the armed forces is considered as having committed a crime and is referred to the Military Prosecution."

He continued, "but the Military Prosecution does not confiscate thoughts or opinions and did not try anyone for his views or opinions, only people who have violated the secrecy of the armed forces are tried."

Meanwhile, in May, a general who spoke to CNN on condition of anonymity, tried to justify subjecting women protesters to virginity tests (something the military had originally denied took place). He said "The girls who were detained were not like your daughter or mine. These were girls who had camped out in tents with male protesters in Tahrir Square, and we found in the tents Molotov cocktails and [drugs]". Moreover, he said "We didn't want them to say we had sexually assaulted or raped them, so we wanted to prove that they weren't virgins in the first place. None of them were [virgins]."

Sadly these military voices seem to reflect a wider official disdain for the people from a powerful organisation that has claimed - with less and less credibility - to be acting in the interests of all Egyptians.

The army and the people are certainly no longer one. Indeed the euphoria of Egypt's 25 January uprising has been replaced by fears that one repressive rule has simply been replaced with another.

 

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