Human Rights Developments
Egypt faced continued political violence and a deteriorating human rights situation in 1994. Military wings of underground Islamist opposition groups carried out acts of violence against members of security forces, Egyptian civilians, and foreigners. The security apparatus committed abuses with impunity. Increasingly, deadly force was used in encounters with suspected militants, and in some cases it appeared that security forces may have carried out extrajudicial executions.
In other developments, lawyers and journalists were detained, and human rights monitors harassed. There was no visible progress in the official investigation of the suspicious death in custody in April of thirty-year-old lawyer Abdel Harith Madani. Military courts handed down death sentences to civilians convicted of security offenses, and executions were carried out swiftly. Peaceful protests were forcibly, and sometimes violently, dispersed by riot police.
The country has been ruled under emergency law since October 1981. In April, the state of emergency was extended until May 31, 1997, and Prime Minister 'Atif Sidqi cited political violence as the justification: "There is a need to maintain the state of emergency in view of the regrettable terrorist acts in the country, including attacks on tourists, assassination of officials, bombing of banks, and the treacherous killing of innocent civilians, police officers and police commanders." Such violence was indeed a reason for concern in 1994.
With utter disregard for the minimum standards set forth in international humanitarian law, the Islamic Group_the clandestine militant organization that advocates the creation of an Islamic state in Egypt_continued to target civilians for murder. On September 27, two Egyptians and a German tourist were killed in the Red Sea resort of Hurghada, when gunmen opened fire with automatic weapons in a busy marketplace. The Islamic Group took responsibility, stating that the attack by one of its military brigades represented "the opening of a new front against the Egyptian regime." It warned "foreigners, especially tourists, not to come to Egypt in the immediate future." The group issued claims of responsibility for other actions during the year, such as attacks on cruise boats, trains and other vehicles, which caused the death and injury of both Egyptians and foreigners. On October 14, eighty-three-year-old Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz was stabbed by an assailant in Cairo. Although no organization claimed responsibility for this attack, clerical censorship of Mahfouz's novel The Sons of Gaballawi_banned since 1959 because Egypt's Muslim religious authorities continue to deem the work blasphemous_made the writer a target for Islamist extremists. In 1989, Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman_the spiritual leader of the Islamic Group now awaiting trial in the U.S. on a twenty-count conspiracy indictment involving the bombing of the World Trade Center and plans for other acts of violence_declared that Mahfouz should be killed unless he repented for writing the book.
Members of the Christian minority also continued to fall victim to apparent political violence. On March 11, two Coptic priests and three Egyptians were killed when gunmen opened fire at the gates of the historic Muharraq monastery, north of Assyut in Upper (southern) Egypt. Police officials blamed Islamist extremists, although no organization claimed responsibility (which is typical when Christians have been targeted and killed in Egypt). Father Bakhmious, a priest at the monastery, told the Egyptian weekly Rose al-Youssef that one week prior to the incident police had been alerted that an anonymous telephone caller warned the abbot of an attack. Father Bakhmious said that increased security measures were not taken, noting that protection had only been provided to tourists who visited the monastery. Christians have long complained about the inaction of police and security forces in the face of threats, intimidation and violence.
Human Rights Watch/Middle East condemns such acts of violence in the strongest terms. The deliberate targeting of civilians violates one of the basic principles of international humanitarian law, which prohibits indiscriminate attacks against the civilian population. But human rights abuses by one party in a situation of internal unrest, no matter how egregious, can never be used to justify violations by another party. Acts of murder and attempted murder by armed opposition groups do not give the Mubarak government a license to abandon the human rights standards that it has pledged to uphold under Egyptian and international law.
Egyptian security forces, particularly State Security Investigation (SSI), the internal-security agency attached to the Ministry of Interior, continued to operate in a lawless manner, with arbitrary arrest, incommunicado detention, and torture of suspects during interrogation the norm. These forces did not stop the practice of intimidating and detaining the relatives_including women, children and the elderly_of Islamist militants wanted by authorities on suspicion of carrying out violence. Threats and detention were also used to intimidate those with information about gross human rights abuses, and to discourage relatives of victims of abuse from pursuing complaints or speaking to the media and investigators from human rights organizations. The intended effect of these tactics was often achieved. In June and July, Human Rights Watch/Middle East representatives witnessed the overwhelming sense of fear_and in some cases, terror_that gripped family members in Upper (southern) Egypt, ensuring their silence or refusal to speak on the record.
The continuing practice of incommunicado detention provides security forces with a virtual blank check to torture suspects with impunity to extract confessions and information. Prosecutors have systematically failed to investigate vigorously the allegations of torture of suspected Islamist militants and to bring charges against SSI officers. The death in custody of thirty-year-old Islamist defense lawyer Abdel Harith Madani in April focused attention on the practice of torture in Egypt. Actions by authorities following Madani's death, including the detention and intimidation of members of his family, only raised additional suspicions of a government cover-up. The lack of progress to date in the official investigation of the death, which Prosecutor General Raga'a el-Arabi conceded in May was "criminal," is further proof that senior Egyptian officials lack the political will to identify and hold accountable security forces personnel who order and carry out acts of torture.
On the night of April 26, Madani was taken from his Cairo law office by SSI officers, following a two-hour search of the premises. The next day, Madani was dead, but, inexplicably, authorities did not notify the family until the morning of May 7, over one week later. Human Rights Watch/Middle East learned that while attorneys from the powerful Cairo Bar Association were negotiating with Prosecutor General el-Arabi on May 7-8 for a second autopsy by independent forensic pathologists (to ascertain Madani's cause of death, believed to be from torture) security forces were pressuring members of the Madani family in Cairo to accept custody of the body quickly and bury it. An uncle and two cousins were detained on May 7 at the Waraq police station, released, then re-detained in the evening, held for several hours, and again released. "They were told that if they would not accept the body, it would be buried in an unknown place," a lawyer in close contact with the family told Human Rights Watch/Middle East. On May 8, one of the cousins was arrested again, held for six hours, and subjected to what one lawyer described as "severe pressure." The cousin then informed the bar association that the family had decided to take the body. "He would not say what the pressures were," the lawyer said, "but he asked us to understand [his position]."
The body, delivered to the family in a sealed coffin, was brought under police guard to Madani's home village of Mat'ana in Upper Egypt. Following the burial, security forces guarded the grave and placed family members in the village under surveillance. Local security operatives used intimidation and threats to discourage relatives from speaking with international human rights monitors and foreign journalists in June and July.
Minister of Interior Hassan el-Alfi claimed on May 14 that Madani died in custody from a fatal asthma attack, although family members and close friends told Human Rights Watch/Middle East that the young lawyer had been in excellent health and suffered from no particular ailments. The official autopsy report has not yet been made public, although Cairo Bar Association head Abdel Aziz Muhammed told the press on June 28 that Egyptian Bar Association chairman Ahmad al-Khawajah had learned from authorities that the post-mortem examination of Madani's body by state doctors documented "seventeen injury marks." Additional information was not provided, and lawyers and human rights groups were unable to obtain authorization for a second independent autopsy.
Since 1990, security forces have been accused of carrying out summary executions of suspected militants, including Dr. Alaa Mohei al-Din, the spokesperson for the Islamic Group who was shot and killed in Cairo in September 1990 under suspicious circumstances. Beginning in February 1994, a series of operations by security forces generated charges that the Ministry of Interior had embarked upon a policy of "shoot-to-kill" in retaliation for its own heavy losses in the ongoing battle with armed militants. In February alone, two separate raids in Cairo left ten suspected "terrorists" dead. At least three of the victims were summarily executed, according to eyewitnesses. Also in February, six suspected militants were killed in one operation in Upper Egypt; local lawyers claim that three of them were in custody at the time, brought to the scene, and summarily executed.
On February 14, three men were shot dead in the Zeinhom section of Cairo in what the government Middle East News Agency (MENA) described as "a good preemptive strike" by security forces against terrorists. But the testimony of neighborhood residents suggested that the men may have been victims of extrajudicial execution. Residents told investigators from the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) that they first heard screams and then saw a large number of men in plainclothes holding four people. Three of the four were moved into a truck, and the residents then heard shooting coming from inside the vehicle. "According to eyewitnesses," EOHR reported on February 20, "the bodies of the victims were moved out on to the street where a machinegun and some bombs were placed beside the bodies."
Local lawyers told Human Rights Watch/Middle East that three persons in custody had been summarily executed on March 21, when six suspected Islamist militants_three of them teenagers_were shot to death in a cemetery during a dawn raid in Balayza village west of Abu Tig in Upper Egypt. The killings occurred several hours after five policemen, including two high-ranking officers, died in an ambush by the Islamic Group near Abu Tig. The semi-official government daily al-Ahram described the Balayza killings as an immediate act of revenge for the deaths of the five policemen: "Before the blood of the martyrs, the innocent victims of blind terrorism, had turned cold, swift retribution was delivered on the vampires of darkness." Such language lends support to theories that security forces have summarily executed suspects already in detention to avenge the killings of fellow officers.
The father of Muhammed Ra'fit Tawfiq al-Naqrashi, one of the Balayza victims, claimed that his son had been in custody at the Abu Tig police station prior to his death, and that he had visited him there. The father provided this information to the local prosecutor, who neglected to include it in his report about the killings, according to EOHR. One SSI officer_believed by local residents to have been involved in the killings_later prevented an EOHR investigator from discussing the case with family members and the prosecutor.
The police explained to EOHR that al-Naqrashi and two other detainees, also victims, had revealed that armed members of the Islamic Group were in the area and that the detainees accompanied security forces to the hiding place. A gunbattle erupted, according to the police version, and the three detainees and three other suspected militants were killed. It remains to be explained by authorities how detainees in custody of the heavily armed police force that approached the hideout could have been so poorly protected and killed.
Civilians accused of involvement in violent security offenses continued to be tried by three-judge Supreme Military Courts. The courts' lack of independence and due process flaws, including the absence of the right to appeal verdicts to a higher tribunal in violation of international fair trial standards, were exacerbated by defendants' allegations of torture and sentences of capital punishment. As of November 9, 1994, fifty-eight death sentences had been handed down since President Hosni Mubarak began to move cases to the military courts in October 1992. Forty-one of the condemned men had been put to death, the largest number of executions in recent Egyptian history.
Continuing the pattern of surveillance, harassment, and detention of Egyptian lawyers who support the Islamist political trend, attorneys who represented militants before the military courts were themselves detained in 1994. Montasser al-Zayyat, a leading defense attorney who has been outspoken in his criticism of torture and other abuses against Islamists and their families, has been detained since May 17. He is under investigation by the state security prosecutor for membership in an illegal organization seeking to undermine the constitution, spreading false information against the interests of the state, and having contact with terrorists. According to EOHR and lawyers interviewed by Human Rights Watch/Middle East, the prosecutor's questioning of Zayyat is based solely upon his home and office telephone conversations with clients, Egyptian and foreign journalists, and human rights organizations, that were recorded by authorities since June 6, 1993. One lawyer who attended the early investigation sessions told Human Rights Watch/Middle East in July that prosecutors were concerned about Zayyat's "meetings with the media, communicating with international and local human rights organizations, and his speeches in defense of political cases." On October 4, Zayyat's detention was extended for forty-five days.
On September 18, lawyers Ibrahim Nasr and Hussein Gaber, who had managed Zayyat's Cairo law office since his arrest, were detained. They were accused by the state security prosecutor of having contact with fugitive Tharwat Salah Shehata. (Shehata, along with three others, was condemned to death in absentia by the Supreme Military Court in Cairo on March 17 for involvement in the attempted assassination of Prime Minister Sidqi in November 1993. An additional five defendants, all of them in custody, were sentenced to death in the same trial and hanged on May 3.) After Nasr's arrest, he was first held at SSI headquarters in Cairo and interrogated. When he was seen by lawyers who attended his session with the prosecutor on October 1, there were obvious blindfold marks on his face and he looked weak. Nasr informed the prosecutor that he had been tortured, but was not examined by state forensic medical doctors until November 1.
The government continued to backslide on freedom of expression. State security prosecutors in 1994 detained journalists and editors from the opposition press and questioned them about articles that were critical of the government. In one controversial case, journalist Abdel Sattar Abu Hussein, a writer on military affairs for al-Sha'b, the twice-weekly newspaper of the opposition Labor Party, who reported on alleged corruption involving the Egyptian military, was tried before a military court and sentenced to one year in prison with hard labor on April 30. He was convicted of "publishing news related to the armed forces without prior permission," the government news agency MENA reported. The "news" in this case concerned Egypt's joint military exercises with other countries; the story was confirmed by the Ministry of Defense and published in two semi-official Egyptian newspapers less than two weeks after Abu Hussein's piece appeared in June 1993. The journalist's prison term was later reduced to three months.
During the year authorities prevented students, political activists, lawyers, and workers and their families from exercising the right to peaceful assembly. In March, following the massacre of Palestinians at the mosque in Hebron, Egyptian authorities deployed riot police to break up protest demonstrations. On May 17, security forces blocked hundreds of attorneys who had assembled at the headquarters of the bar association in Cairo from marching peacefully to the presidential palace to protest the death in detention of Abdel Harith Madani. Twenty-seven lawyers were arrested; the next day, another ten lawyers, including three officers of the Cairo Bar Association, were detained and charged with inciting the demonstration. On October 2, four people were killed and dozens injured in the industrial city of Kafr el-Dawwar in the Nile Delta, where some of the 23,000 workers at the huge, state-owned textile factory had days earlier begun a peaceful sit-in to protest unfair actions by management. Anti-riot forces were deployed around the factory and in the adjacent residential quarters on September 30. Security forces on October 2 attempted to disperse relatives who had gathered near the factory and to prevent them from bringing food to the workers. Tensions escalated, and police fired tear gas, rubber bullets and buckshot into the factory and at the crowds, and then stormed a nearby residential area. "A large amount of buckshot was fired indiscriminately," EOHR reported on October 6. It later documented nine cases_including that of an eleven-year-old girl_of serious injury from buckshot in one or both eyes. After the violence, over seventy workers and their relatives were arrested.
The Right to Monitor
Egyptian authorities tolerated_but sometimes interfered with_the activities of locally based and international human rights organizations. EOHR continues to operate without official legal status and thus remains subject to arbitrary closure at any time. In October, the Ministry of Interior banned the Egyptian branch of Amnesty International from holding two days of scheduled meetings in Cairo.
Senior government officials continue to deny that the state commits human rights violations, and have accused rights monitors of harming Egypt's image and providing moral support to "terrorists." Interior Minister el-Alfi stated that "calls for the protection of human rights are out of place in Egypt" and "that those who make such calls are encouraged by foreign quarters," MENA reported on June 13. EOHR officials have expressed concern about an overly broad provision in the penal code, Article 80(d), which specifies prison terms of up to five years for any Egyptian who has intentionally published or written information, news, reports or "malicious rumors" concerning the internal conditions of the country that could weaken Egypt's financial stability, reputation or image. The same penalties apply to anyone who in any way has undertaken any activity that harms Egypt's interests. EOHR had been warned through informal official channels that authorities could use these provisions against the organization.
Over the last year, state security agents interfered with the work of EOHR investigators in Upper Egypt, and twice in Cairo took action to block the dissemination of its reports. EOHR reported in December 1993 that SSI had pressured several printing houses to obstruct the timely publication of its report A Crime Without Punishment: Torture in Egypt. At one company, SSI officers remained on the premises to prevent the book from being printed. The report was eventually published, although SSI blocked a second report in 1994. EOHR reported in September that security authorities had orally informed publishers Akhbar al-Youm and al-Akhbar that the organization's report on human rights conditions in Egypt in 1993_ a paperback book released at a press conference in Cairo in July 1994_could not be distributed and sold inside the country. The same publishers had distributed two earlier EOHR reports on human rights. In another serious development, the Ministry of Interior banned two meetings scheduled for October 28-29 in Cairo by the Egyptian branch of Amnesty International, which comprises some 300 members organized in over thirty local groups. The Ministry of Interior told the branch's secretary general that the reason for the action was the group's lack of official legal status.
For the second consecutive year, the movements of Human Rights Watch/Middle East representatives were closely monitored by security forces in Upper Egypt. In June, continuous surveillance by agents in plainclothes_on foot and on the roads in a variety of unmarked vehicles_hampered the delegation's ability to interview families and lawyers and collect information about alleged abuses. Human Rights Watch/Middle East was forced to curb its activities and contacts so as not to place unprotected individuals at risk of harassment or other punitive actions by security forces. On June 23, Human Rights Watch/Middle East sent a letter of protest to President Mubarak about the surveillance, and provided details in a memorandum delivered on June 29 to the Ministry of Interior. On July 8, SSI officers in Mallawi, north of Assyut, attempted to detain for questioning the Egyptian interpreter accompanying Human Rights Watch/Middle East in Upper Egypt. This incident occurred immediately after the delegation had watched armed plainclothes and uniformed security forces raid a mosque used by the Islamic Group, remove a large quantity of materials from the building, and cart it away in waiting vehicles.
In July, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs refused to provide Human Rights Watch/Middle East representatives access to senior government officials in Cairo, despite repeated written requests for such meetings since May. The ministry also did not permit visits to prisons; requests had been made to inspect the new maximum-security facility (known as al-Aqrab, or the scorpion) opened in May 1993 in the Tora prison complex near Cairo, where conditions and treatment were said to be appalling. Prison authorities had banned all visits by families and lawyers since December 1993, despite an April 1994 ruling by the administrative court that found the open-ended ban on visits unjustifiable.
Despite persistent patterns of human rights abuse, Egypt remains the recipient of the second-largest package of U.S. military and economic assistance in the world, after Israel. The Mubarak government's reliance on annual U.S. aid of $1.3 billion, from the Foreign Military Financing Program, and $814 million in Economic Support Funds offers enormous potential for the Clinton administration to press for specific human rights improvements, such as low-cost steps to prevent incommunicado detention and demonstrable progress on official investigations of suspicious deaths in custody. But other foreign policy considerations continue to override human rights and_to the best of Human Rights Watch/Middle East's knowledge_no measurable performance criteria have been laid down for Egyptian authorities.
"Egypt needs and deserves our continuing support," Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Robert H. Pelletreau, the former U.S. Ambassador to Egypt, told the Middle East subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on March 1, emphasizing the Mubarak government's domestic problems and its backing of U.S. foreign policy. "Despite difficult economic problems at home and an ongoing confrontation with Islamic extremists, President Mubarak has been immensely helpful in advancing the [Arab-Israeli] peace process. He has also supported enhancement of stability in the gulf and has rigorously enforced international sanctions against Iraq and Libya."
National security advisor Anthony Lake noted in an article in The Washington Post on July 24 that "the stability of friendly Arab countries" is in U.S. interests. Citing "Islamic extremism" as a threat to the future of the Middle East, Lake put forth the case for a lead U.S. role in "helping to form a community of like-minded regional states that share our goals of free markets, broad democratic values and controls on proliferation of weapons of mass destruction." With one important exception, Clinton administration officials maintained a conspicuous silence over the last year about the long-term threat to Egypt's stability posed by the deteriorating human rights situation, and did little to stress publicly the incompatibility of democratic values with continued erosion of the rule of law.
In December 1993, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor John Shattuck visited Egypt for three days. At a press conference in Cairo on December 4, Secretary Shattuck criticized the Mubarak government's performance. "[T]here is evidence of torture, some extrajudicial killings, incommunicado detentions and some constraints on freedom of expression," he said, adding that "violations of human rights are neither lawful nor effective in combatting political violence." He refrained, however, from linking the continued practice of torture either to high-level established policy or to the consistent failure of authorities to investigate torture complaints made by security detainees and to prosecute the officers responsible for abuses. Instead, he stated that the office of the public prosecutor gave him "a strong commitment that all allegations of torture would be fully investigated and that appropriate action will be taken."
Secretary Shattuck should have known that the proffered commitment carried no special significance; similar assurances have been offered in the past, with no discernible effect, as the Clinton Administration itself has recognized. Two months after Secretary Shattuck's comment, the State Department's Country Reports on Human rights Practices for 1993 stated_accurately_that torture is systematically practiced by police and security forces in Egypt, and that "the Government does not adequately investigate torture complaints in cases involving detainees in political or religious cases. There is no public record that offending officers in such cases are punished, thus suggesting that the Government tacitly condones the mistreatment of those it considers to be opponents." Commendably, Secretary Shattuck did meet with EOHR during his mission, and at the press conference publicly acknowledged the importance of the role of EOHR and other nongovernmental organizations in Egyptian civil society.
The Work of
Human Rights Watch/Middle East
Initiatives on Egypt during the year were guided by three objectives: to support and publicize the work of Egyptian human rights organizations; to monitor and report on state policies and practices that have an impact on human rights and the rule of law; and to communicate concerns to Egyptian government officials, the media, and policymakers in the U.S. and the European Union.
Human Rights Watch/Middle East protested and publicized the harassment of EOHR (December 1993 and September 1994); possible excessive use of lethal force by security forces (March); detention of lawyers without charge or trial (April); the death in custody of Abdel Harith Madani (May); the lack of information about investigations of deaths in detention from 1991 to 1993 (May); violations of freedom of expression (September); and the torture and detention of children (October). Of seven letters of protest sent by Human Rights Watch/Middle East to various Egyptian government officials between March and October, not one was acknowledged in writing.
In June and July, Human Rights Watch/Middle East conducted a four-week fact-finding mission to examine security forces practices, Madani's death in detention, and the crackdown on lawyers. On June 14, during this mission, SSI arrested five defense and human rights lawyers in Cairo. Human Rights Watch/Middle East representatives collected information and issued a press release the following day. Citing the state's continuing attempts to harass and intimidate lawyers, Human Rights Watch/Middle East called on President Mubarak to release immediately all lawyers detained or charged for the exercise of their right to free expression and free association. On July 5, the prosecutor general ordered the five lawyers released.
Human Rights Watch/Middle East issued reports about the intimidation and detention of family members by security forces, and violations of freedom of religious belief and expression of the Christian minority.