A new Amnesty International report has revealed that students, political activists and protesters have vanished without a trace in Egypt. The report, titled "Egypt: Officially you do not exist" has revealed horrific statistics that prove that Egypt’s National Security Agency (NSA) has been at the centre of enforced disappearances in the country. It says, “Most of the victims of enforced disappearances have been supporters of former President Morsi, whom the authorities continue to target, but they also include supporters of other political movements including advocates perceived to promote a secular state.”
The curious case of Guilio Regeni, tip of the iceberg
Egypt made headlines for all the wrong reasons in the case of Guilio Regeni, an eyebrow raising situation to say the least. He was a PhD student from Italy (based in Cairo) last seen alive on the 25th of January. Nine days later, Regeni’s body was found in a ditch near a desert highway between Cairo and Alexandria. The man had been burnt, beaten, and mutilated. His nails had been ripped out and he had broken ribs and a brain haemorrhage. His state was said to bear all hallmarks of an extrajudicial killing by the state’s police. Amnesty International mentions Regeni also saying his death raised suspicion that he may have been a victim of enforced disappearance. Egyptian authorities are said to have given changing, contradictory and seemingly implausible accounts that have caused a diplomatic rift between Italy and Egypt. Amnesty’s Felix Jakens rightly says this case is just the tip of the iceberg.
Disappearances and torture now government policy
The Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa director, Philip Luther says, “Enforced disappearance has become a key instrument of state policy in Egypt. Anyone who dares to speak out is at risk, with counter-terrorism being used as an excuse to abduct, interrogate ad torture people who challenge authorities.” The past eighteen months have seen the emergence of human rights violations against political activists and protesters, including students and children, hundreds of whom have been arbitrarily arrested and subjected to enforced disappearance by state agents. This new pattern is evident since March 2015 when Major-General Abd el-Ghaffar was appointed the Minister of Interior by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Prior to this appointment, el-Ghaffar held senior positions in the State Security Investigations (SSI) under Mubarak and in the National Security Agency that replaced it. It is not a coincidence that most of the victims of enforced disappearance have been supporters of former President Morsi. Many of the victims are held in NSA premises, in particular the Lazoughly office which is a short distance from the Tahrir Square, the home of protests which dislodged Mubarak from power in 2011. Predictably, Minister el-Ghaffar has insisted that the NSA operates within the confines of its duties as prescribed by Egyptian law. It is a wonder if this law allows the killing of more than 1,000 people and jailing 40,000 more. These numbers are only from the time President Fattah al-Sisi ascended to power after a military coup. They have been the major weapon against the Muslim Brotherhood which has been labelled a terrorist group.
The numbers may seem like a call to action but Egypt has continued to deny that such violations of human rights are being committed in the country. Egypt has instead chosen to dismiss such reports as mere “propaganda put out by the MB (Muslim Brotherhood) and its supporters”. In Regeni’s case, the deceased’s body showed signs of torture and even the Cairo prosecutor described the corpse in language implying the same. However, police official, General Khaled Shalabi still said, “The first investigations suggest that he was the victim of a car accident.”
It is such evasive tactics that have kept Egypt in the spotlight for every wrong reason in the book. In an interview with the Middle East News Agency (MENA), Minister Ghaffar stressed that Egypt has zero forced disappearance cases. This denial means violations will persist and there is no drive to change the current status. It is up to regional blocs and other countries to pile pressure on Egypt and every other country in the habit of enforcing disappearances. Amnesty suggests that countries that have long maintained close diplomatic, trade and other ties with Egypt “should take the lead in pressing the Egyptian government to cease these human rights violations, including barring any further transfers of security, policing and military equipment that could be used to commit or facilitate violations, at least until Egypt conducts full prompt, impartial and independent investigations into alleged violations and brings those responsible to justice.” That is the only logical solution.
Image credit: Times of Israel