In Egypt, state policy is quickly regressing into a set of oppressive policies that violate both international human rights laws and basic human rights. Amnesty International has reported that the National Security Agency (NSA) of Egypt has been eliminating peaceful dissent through enforced disappearances, torture, and abduction. The report is titled “Egypt: ‘Officially, you do not exist’ – Disappeared and tortured in the name of counter-terrorism,” and it outlines the crimes of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s administration. Sisi’s regime is an ally and important security partner of the United States and other European countries. Yet in the past 18 months of Sisi’s rule, a new system of human rights violations has been integrated into state policy in Egypt.
Children as well as peaceful protesters, students, and activists have mysteriously disappeared after their homes were stormed by security forces. Those detained undergo torture and other human rights violations. Many have been arrested and detained in a way that leaves them without access to their family, a lawyer, or a fair trial. The report asserts that at least 3 to 4 people per day have been seized and subjugated to an enforced disappearance. Beginning in early 2015, there has been a dramatic rise in these enforced disappearances and the numbers now stand in the tens of thousands.
The foregoing has come immediately after the overthrow of the first democratically elected leader in Egypt, Mohamed Morsi, who was the president of the Muslim Brotherhood. Morsi was deposed by Abdel-Fatah al-Sisi in July 2013; in the succeeding months, hundreds of officials and leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood as well as followers of the overthrown President Mohamed Morsi have disappeared and been thrown behind bars without a trial. Some have even been sentenced to death. The victims were often questioned about Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood, and their political opinions. Detainees were also questioned about religious beliefs and other affiliation with government protests. The NSA officers forced the detainees to “confess” to misconduct and many were forced to incriminate others. Notably, activists and supporters of a secular state have also been targeted. The end goal is to scare dissenters into silence. Over 41,000 people have gone missing in the first two years of President Sisi’s governance.
Since March 2015, the numbers have surged due to the selection of Major-General Magdy Abd el-Ghaffar as Minister of Interior. Since his appointment, the National Security Agency of Egypt has become the primary organization used to stifle opposition to Sisi’s regime. Specifically, the NSA under Ghaffar carries out the most severe acts of torture and other violations of human rights without judicial action. Many of those who are targeted, tortured, and detained are held in the NSA Lazoughly office in Cairo, inside the Ministry of Interior headquarters.
Egypt is not part of the International Convention on the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance, but it is part of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which outlaws the torture and treatment that has been proven by surviving detainees. Within the parameters of international law, enforced disappearances are never excused, even during wartime or an emergency, yet nothing is being done. There is a mountain of evidence that shows various forms of abuse against citizens at the hands of the government. Despite this, Egypt and its government denies any form of torture, abuse, and detainment. Even worse, the government accuses the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters as perpetrators of propaganda. As Amnesty International explains, “Given the number, range and diversity of victims...there can be no doubt that enforced disappearances are now being used as an element of state policy in Egypt.”
Enforced disappearances in Egypt are not reserved for only Egyptians either. Giulio Regeni, an Italian student, was found dead outside of Cairo earlier this year. He was a PhD student from Cambridge studying the “regime’s appeal for stability and social order – justified by the ‘war on terror’ (Regeni). When found near the Cairo-Alexandria highway, he clearly bore injuries received through torture, after being missing for a number of days. Over the prior nine days, he had been stabbed, electrocuted, and beaten. The Egyptian government denied accusations by the Italian government, but his injuries were similar to those who have suffered under abduction by the NSA and Egyptian security forces. Instead, the government claimed he had been kidnapped by criminals.
This stands to symbolize a bigger problem with the prosecution system in Egypt. The Public Prosecution, under Egyptian law, is the party responsible for making sure that all detentions and arrests are made legally. They also are responsible for ensuring that those detained are protected from torture and other mistreatment. In reality, the prosecution doesn’t adequately address testimonies of torture and mistreatment. Instead, they heavily weigh the “confessions” that were extracted through torture and don’t allow detainees to refute them. If the prosecution miraculously does decide to release a detainee, the NSA will often make the detainee disappear again until the NSA has concocted a new charge and a new case against the same detainee.
So what is being done internationally? Not enough. Many Western leaders, including US State Secretary John Kerry, have met with Sisi in Cairo but ironically have been silent about the rise in enforced disappearances and torture. These omissions are sending a message to Egypt that human rights fall to the wayside when compared to other issues such as oil control and the war against ISIS. In addition, there needs to be a reform of the Public Prosecution to make sure that prosecutors are not following executive authorities and the NSA blindly. The prosecution needs its own independence from government security agencies to protect human rights. Furthermore, the prosecutors need to be morally held responsible in order to ensure that Egyptian and international law are upheld.
Black, Ian. "Hundreds 'disappeared' by Security Forces in Egypt, Says Amnesty." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 12 July 2016. Web. 06 Aug. 2016.
"Egypt: Dozens Detained Secretly." Human Rights Watch. Human Rights Watch, 20 July 2015. Web. 06 Aug. 2016.
Jack, Moore. "Egypt Is Forcibly Disappearing Hundreds to Stop Dissent, Amnesty Says." Newsweek. Newsweek, 13 July 2016. Web. 06 Aug. 2016.
Image: © Kiraly Istvan Daniel | Dreamstime.com - <a href="https://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photo-egyptian-police-officers-image18087805#res14972580">Egyptian Police Officers</a>
Alanna Schenk is a student studying International Relations with a minor in Human Security and Geospatial Intelligence at the University of Southern California. Her primary interests are in ecological security and human security, specifically related to the regions of Northern Europe and Africa. She is particularly interested in how geospatial technologies can be used to study and offer suggestions for humanitarian intervention and issues of human security. Specifically, she fascinated by how satellite and remote sensing can be used to improve documentation capabilities and research across the fields of human rights and humanitarian intervention. Furthermore, she is a research assistant for the Lab on Non-Democratic Politics at USC and has also spent time conducting field research in the Arctic. On campus, Alanna is a fellow with the Levan Institute of Humanities and Ethics, a Senator for the Undergraduate Student Government, and a member with USC's Teaching International Relations Program.