Tahrir Square: unfinished business

The new clashes in Tahrir Square are a blunt reminder of the fact that Egypt’s “25 January” revolution is unfinished business. To say the least….

Many of the people protesting in the square and surrounding streets are reported to be relatives of some of the 850 people killed in the uprising. One Al Jazeera reporter has described the tactics of the security forces as “very aggressive”, including the use of tear gas and rubber bullets.

Certainly several people I follow on Twitter were reporting or RT-ing accounts of the use of a very virulent tear gas – “Protesters running away from tear gas. Highly potent & way worse than any I've inhaled before. And that's lots”, said @mosaaaberizing. Amnesty’s own @jpmlynch has tweeted about what Amnesty delegates in the square have been seeing, for example: “1 person severely burnt, many getting oxygen due to tear gas. Severely injured transferred to hospitals.” Like many eyewitnesses, Amnesty staff noticed how people were bringing vinegar to the square to combat the effects of the tear gas (listen to this audio clip from one of them who was herself affected by the gas).

The big claim from the authorities has been that the protests have been the work of “thugs”. The Amnesty team – like numerous others – said they saw no evidence of organised thuggery against the security forces. (Indeed, I notice some protestor-tweeters like @mosaaaberizing have already retorted with ironic tweets about his “Thug Tools”, consisting of a phone, charger, mask, water bottle and (again) vinegar).

The Egyptian army is claiming that the protests are designed to "destabilise the country". Hmm.

Since the fall of Mubarak the army has an extremely chequered record on human rights. Some 7,000 people have been detained and many put on trial before military courts (classic Mubarak-era tactics). Protestors have been killed in circumstances where it looks as if soldiers used excessive force (eg at least two in Tahrir Square on 9 April) and soldiers have certainly wielded electric batons and sticks and driven armoured vehicles into crowds on several occasions.

Notoriously, the army has also detained women protestors and subjected them to “virginity tests” and then repeatedly sought to justify its behaviour, most recently in face-to-face talks between Amnesty and Major General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of the Supreme Council on Sunday. The general has, now, said this practice will end.

As even a glance through Amnesty’s big Egypt Rises report last month shows, the Egyptian authorities are a long way short of addressing both the need for accountability for deaths and injuries in the revolution as well as years’ of abuse during the dark years under Mubarak.

If I was a person in Egypt anxious about human rights and the future of the country I would keep plenty of vinegar in the house for the time being …

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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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