May 18, 2013
Dispatches From Cairo: Torture in Post-Mubarak Egypt
Posted on Oct 30, 2011
Authorities’ use of torture was one of the major grievances behind the mass mobilization of the Egyptian revolution. Under the former regime, police torture was routine, and almost nine months after Mubarak’s departure it is still routine. Now, however, Egyptians will not accept it. A key question is: Will the people hold the army and the police accountable for the torture and death of civilians when those civilians are petty criminals?
Nothing that Atta might have done could justify the sickening barbarity of the police. Whatever his past, he well may become the new Khaled Said, another symbol for the revolution. Grist for its mill, new blood and fuel and motivation.
Egyptians had hoped there would be natural change in the police, supposedly restructured since Mubarak’s ouster, but it is clear that the Supreme Council for the Armed Forces (SCAF) has failed to remove top-ranking officers who served the former regime and thereby has failed to achieve reform.
Atta’s death has suppressed any public sense of reform within the practices of the police and security forces. Brutal traditions held over from the Mubarak regime must be dismantled and cleansed with fire before we can have a civilized police establishment that is truly here to keep the peace, to protect and serve.
Although Atta’s demise inspired a wave of anger and condemnation on the social networks, worries of violent confrontation proved unfounded. Crowds at demonstrations were good sized but not as big or as vociferous as we are used to. People are just too stunned and sickened to be motivated right now. Even the chanting at the protests was relatively weak, and the usual Egyptian rhythmic cohesiveness was off. This month’s news of Libyan President Moammar Gadhafi’s capture and death has reduced public outcry. The people are nearly speechless—for the moment.
The developments of recent days come only weeks before the parliamentary elections in which candidates—one hopes they are voices of reason among revolutionary activists, liberals and the Muslim Brotherhood—will compete to participate in the new democratic Egyptian government. The voting will be the first step toward a true democratic Egyptian presidential election, now set for 2013. So we will see what the people really want … who will emerge as a people’s choice, and what may happen between now and the presidential election. In Egypt, and perhaps across the shifting Middle East.
A time for decisions is nearing. But right now the people are sleeping to forget ever more images of tortured bodies and other signs of their vulnerability.
Egyptians sympathize with and are supportive of all people seeking freedom from corruption and injustice. They are heartbroken for Syria’s torment, they worry about Yemen and Morocco, hope things will be OK in Libya.
Also, their hearts are with the Occupy protests in the United States. But they are puzzled about the media’s focus on the police cordons and not on the suffering behind the protests. And they don’t quite understand an idea of police brutality that doesn’t include some people dead.
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