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As Egypt cracks down, charges of wide abuse

Regular reports of torture and police abuse are fueling protests across the country.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / October 10, 2007


The regime of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is in the midst of one of its largest crackdowns against public dissent in a decade.

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Seven journalists have been given prison sentences in recent weeks; more than a thousand activists of the Muslim Brotherhood, the country's most popular political opposition, languish in jail; and labor organizers involved in a wave of strikes at government-owned factories have been detained.

On Sunday, fighting between rival Bedouin clans in the Sinai Peninsula quickly spiraled into a riot targeting the police and President Mubarak's National Democratic Party (NDP). While local grievances sparked the fight, regular reports of widespread police brutality and torture fed anger in the Sinai, where locals called for the police chief's resignation, and are fueling public outrage around the country.

As the government cracks down hard in both the Sinai and on opposition activists, such as members of the Muslim Brotherhood, it is increasingly being charged with the use of torture on detainees. The charges are being publicized on the Internet by activists eager to bring about reform in Egypt, where the government has strong support from Washington.

"It's hard to explain why, except that torture becomes a habit," says Aida Seif al-Dawla, a psychologist who founded and runs the Nadim Center for the Psychological Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence in Cairo. "But there's no question that police abuse has gone through the roof. For the past month, we've been getting one or two cases every day. For every case that's reported to us, there's bound to be many more we never hear about."

Nasser Sedit Gadallah is just one example.

A plumber who was on his way home in late July after finishing a job in the poor town of Amrania on the western edge of Cairo, Mr. Gadallah was waylaid by a group of local cops.

He was beaten and his cellphone and payment for his work were stolen, says his brother, Ghad. Then, his brother says, Gadallah insisted on filing a complaint at the police station where some of his attackers, whom he recognized, worked.

He was rebuffed and warned against pursuing the matter further. But, says Ghad, Nasser didn't heed those warnings. He filed a complaint with the prosecutor of Giza Governorate, which was backed up by the testimony of a witness who identified some of the police.

On Aug. 8, about 10 officers from the Amraniyah police station broke into the family's home, tied up Ghad and another brother of Nasser's, and tossed Nasser headfirst to his death from the family's third-story balcony while his 9-year-old son and his wife watched, according to a recounting of the incident by Ghad.

The family's neighbors quickly gathered to attack the police, smashing the windows of some of their cars before the police were able to flee.

Now, says Ghad, the other witness to the initial robbery says he's afraid to testify. The prosecutor in Giza hasn't yet decided if charges will be pressed over Gadallah's death, and some of his brother's alleged killers continue to work openly at the police station, according to Ghad.

"Obviously, most Egyptians are afraid to speak out against things like this," says Ghad. "But for us, nothing will satisfy us but justice. People need to know that the police act like a mafia run out of the interior ministry."

Today, his sister-in-law and her 9-year-old son spend a few days a week with Nadim Center therapists trying to work through the trauma. On a typical day there, the waiting room is full of patients, about half Egyptians, the rest refugees from Sudan and other parts of Africa who suffered abuse home before fleeing to Cairo.