Time for reform: a 'new' Egypt on the way?

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At the start of 2011, Egypt was a country whose people were stifled by 30 years of oppressive ‘emergency’ rule, ruthless repression of dissent, high levels of official corruption and endemic poverty. The security forces, hundreds of thousands strong, along with their commanders and political leaders, enjoyed almost total impunity for human rights violations that were committed routinely and extensively, including arbitrary arrests, torture and grossly unfair trials.

But on 25 January 2011, something incredible happened. Thousands, then hundreds of thousands, then millions of Egyptians took to the streets to demand change. Within 18 days, the country-wide mass demonstrations and the courage and determination of protesters succeeded in ousting Hosni Mubarak, President for 30 years. His enforced resignation on 11 February, was greeted with cheers of joy by millions of Egyptians.

In the days that followed, Egyptians had hopes for a 'new Egypt', a break from the past, and a future which finally included respect for human rights.

Today however, Egypt's security forces and army still operate above the law. During its 16 months as Egypt's caretaker government, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) broke its promises to protect human rights and betrayed the people who made the “25 January Revolution”.

Instead of upholding its pledge to allow peaceful protest, and help the country transition to civilian rule, it unleashed violent repression against protesters, and entrenched its power to ensure they were immune from prosecution. In two new reports released today, Amnesty International details the abuses against protesters and highlight the drastic need for accountability and reform.

The first documents human rights violations by the Egyptian armed forces, who have subjected protesters to unjustified repression and use of force. Images of an attack by paratroopers on protesters in and around Cairo's Tahrir Square on 17 December 2011 are particularly disturbing.

Troops charged at protesters with truncheons and set fire to protesters' tents. Soldiers dragged women activists along the ground by their hair and also beat and pulled up the clothes of a woman protester, Hassan Shahin, wearing a headscarf and abaya, exposing her underwear – images that went viral and shocked the world. Activist Azza Suleiman tried to help Hassan but was herself brutally beaten and you can see her side of the story in this CNN interview.

SCAFs apology for this incident was nothing more than a token gesture. No one has been held to account for the abuses of these women, despite many of the perpetrators being identified. The token apology is just one example of the immunity enjoyed by the armed forces during SCAFs rule.

The second report documents violations committed by the police forces. Decades of police brutality is widely seen as one of the causes of the uprising, with the case of Khaled Said, a young man beaten to death by the police in Alexandria in June 2010, becoming a cause célèbre. The police force is largely considered a remnant of Mubarak's rule and again, instead of reform, they continue to breach human rights. For example, with just a few exceptions, all officers tried in connection with the killing of protesters during the uprising were acquitted or received one year suspended sentences. The families of those killed, injured, tortured or ill-treated complain that justice is continuing to fail them. There is urgent need of reform.

With the arrival of a new civilian President, Mohamed Morsi, there’s hope that real reform of the security and armed forces can finally begin.  

Since assuming power he has ordered a shakeup of the leadership of the armed forces, security forces and government officials. In July, he overturned amendments to Egypt's Constitutional Declaration that left the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) with legislative power and oversight of civilian laws. He then ordered the head of the SCAF to retire. Many are now looking to him to turn the page of the Mubarak era once and for all.

Just last week he tweeted this:

We must never again find ways to whitewash or cover-up torture or abuse #Morsi

— د.محمد مرسي (@MuhammadMorsi) September 27, 2012


We’re hopeful this is a sign that he is serious about reform, particularly in holding those responsible for the horrific display of human rights abuses to account. He has already established two fact-finding committees to gather information and evidence into the killing and wounding of protesters between January 25 2011 and 30 June 2012 and review the cases of civilians tried by military courts. Thanks to the recommendations, some 572 detainees were pardoned by the President on 19 July and released, and we hope more will follow. The committees offer a great opportunity to establish the full truth about the 2011 uprising and the human rights violations during the rule of SCAF, and to ensure that no one is above the law in Egypt.

But there’s more to be done. Sign our petition to President Morsi calling on him to restore the rule of law and ensure real and genuine reform to put an end to decades of impunity and flagrant disregard for human rights within the Egyptian security and armed forces. Let's hope this really is the start of a 'new' Egypt; Egyptians have waited long enough.

About Amnesty UK Blogs
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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