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11 February 2011

Egyptian Protests for Democracy: Will the Military Support or Turn on the People?

From the beginning of the crisis the armed forces have said they are on the streets to protect the people and have reiterated their commitment to protect the nation. The army claims to be a neutral force and there has generally been cooperation between them and the protestors. However, Vice President Omar Suleiman and the Prime Minister have a military background and also have a good relation with Mubarak and it is believed that this relation will determine how the army deals with the protestors.

Vice President Suleimen has said that the protestors should go home and this can be taken as a threat. The protestors made the mistake of thinking Mubarak would step down on Thursday evening which resulted in rage on the streets, and likewise it is believed they will be making a mistake to assume that the friendly attitude of the army at the outset will continue indefinitely.

The use of torture is an endemic problem in Egypt and is one of the main issues that continue to bring crowds to the streets. Torture is usually associated with state security forces but the military has also acted brutally in some cases with pro-democracy protestors.

At the moment, no one in Egypt has a formula to move away from an authoritarian regime. This situation is becoming a dangerous stand off as the regime is not prepared to concede to the protestors' desire for Mubarak to leave. There are no leaders of this revolution, and without leaders the demonstrations do not have fresh perspective of how to manage the protests and at which point the protestors should acknowledge the changes that have been made and act accordingly.

As patience begins to run out on the part of the president and the vice president, it would be foolish of the regime to turn the army onto the people because of the chaos that would ensue. It would also be equally foolish of the protestors to believe that the army will remain neutral indefinately.

Torture in Egypt: Consistent practices?

 French citizen testifies to a human rights group his torture in State Security prisons in Egypt. Lina Attalah reports 

Romuald Durand, a French citizen, was arrested and detained on 21 April at the Cairo International Airport, on allegations of being connected to terrorist groups, according to his testimonial to the London-based Amnesty International. After having spent two days at the airport, Durand was transferred to one of the State Security headquarters in Nasr City, east of Cairo, where he was tortured. 

“Blindfolded and handcuffed throughout this period, Romuald Durand told Amnesty International he was tortured and otherwise ill-treated during the first 10 days of his detention in the SSI facility in Nasr City. He reported being stripped naked and subjected to electric shocks while his arms and legs were tied, and stretched. He was slapped and stood upon, as well as forced to remain standing for hours. Romuald Durand says SSI personnel also threatened him with rape," reads the statement issued by Amnesty International. 

Durand was then transferred to another state security headquarters in Lazoghly, Central Cairo, by the end of May and then was taken to the emigration office of the Ministry of Interior to arrange for his deportation. He met his family at the airport on 22 June and left to France with them. 

Fouad Allam, retired police general who headed state security for 20 years, questioned the reason why Durand only expressed his torture account two weeks after he left Egypt. “It’s strange that his lawyers did not voice out those claims while he was in custody." 

According to information obtained by Al Masry Al Youm"s English Edition Durand"s brother had commissioned and paid Montassir Al Zayat, prominent Islamist lawyer to undertake Durand"s case. "I presented a memo to the Public Prosecutor asking him to stop detaining Durand without charge by either charging or releasing him. After his release I contacted him in France to make sure he was OK." 

Durand used to work as a businessman in Paris. “He moved to Egypt three years ago to expand his carton box making business, attracted by the cheap labor privileges in the country," a source from Amnesty International told Al-Masry Al-Yom’s English Edition. “He is a Catholic who converted to Islam and wanted to conduct a respectable Muslim life and also learn Arabic. For all those reasons, he moved to Cairo with his Muslim wife and two children." His family did not know his whereabouts during his two-month detention, as he could only message them upon his arrest at the airport before he was held incommunicado. 

His detention comes amidst a series of foreigners’ arrests undertaken by the Egyptian security which claims it is pursuing an operation to enforce visa regulations. But Durand’s Egyptian visa does not expire until November 2009. Meanwhile, the Egyptian authorities announced in late May that they arrested seven people in connection with the Hussein bombing that took place in Cairo in February 2009, killing a French citizen and wounding approximately 25 people. Amongst those arrested, there were five foreigners with ties to al-Qaeda network, as per a statement by the Ministry of Interior disseminated by the press then. A Ministry of Interior official told the Agence France Presse (AFP) this week that some 20 French Muslims detained in connection with the same attack have been deported out of Egypt. While no charges were held against them, they were considered “religious extremists and undesirable in Egypt."

During his detention, Durand was interrogated about his conversion to Islam and his acquaintances in Cairo, that include terrorism suspects, he told Amnesty International. “When he was arrested at the airport, he was told by the security that they don’t have anything against him, but it’s his contacts that matter to them," the Amnesty International source added. According to the source, Durand might have had a distant link with a contact suspected of terrorism by the Egyptian authorities. 

The French Embassy in Cairo said that there were no lawyers commissioned to defend any of the detained French citizens. “None of them families have contacted lawyers," a spokesman for the French consulate in Egypt told Al Masry Al Yom. On the embassy’s measures, “we presented a verbal note to the Egyptian authorities. We do whenever any French citizen is arrested for any reason. We then conduct our regular consular protection, whereby we visit the detained to check on their physical and moral status." The spokeswoman added that the Egyptian authorities were “attentive" to their demands.

Allam threw out the assumption that Durand could receive a better treatment because he is a French national. “Everyone is equal before the security, be it a foreigner or an Egyptian when there is a legal violation," he said. “There are certain security regulations and when they are breached by police officers, they are reprimanded." 

According to Amnesty International, Durand is back in Paris with his family and is trying to rebuild his life. While he was asked by the French authorities to recount his experience, he confirmed that he was not exposed to any further harassment.   

Four Indonesian students studying in Al Azhar University were also released after being arrested and tortured two weeks ago, according to Indonesian embassy reports to local media. The reason for their arrest remains unclear. 

The Egyptian security apparatus has actively cracked down on Islamist groups connected with terrorist attacks in the 1990s, after which a relative slowdown in terrorism was experienced in Egypt. “It’s wrong to think that terrorism is over in Egypt," reminded Allam. “The Egyptian security is keeping the same level of alert it had in the 1980s and 1990s."