regime, same brutality in
Egypt By Cam McGrath
CAIRO - Graphic video footage of an
Egyptian man being dragged naked across a street
and beaten by riot police during a protest in
Cairo has sparked outrage in Egypt and heightened
calls for police reform, a key demand of the 2011
uprising that toppled dictator Hosni Mubarak.
The video shows Hamada Saber, a
48-year-old painter, lying on the ground with his
trousers around his ankles as police in riot gear
strike him with batons and punch him in the face.
After he stops moving, police officers drag him
face down across the asphalt and attempt to bundle
him into an armored vehicle.
has angered opposition and rights groups, which
accuse President Mohamed
Morsi of relying on the same brutal tactics as his
predecessors to crush dissent.
shocking footage, but not surprising," says
activist Mohamed Fathy. "We have the same police
force now as we did under Mubarak. There has been
no serious effort to reform it."
assaulted on February 1 after clashes between
police and anti-Morsi demonstrators near the
presidential palace spilled over into the streets
where he was shopping with his family. The
violence followed a week of civil unrest across
Egypt that left nearly 60 people dead and hundreds
Many Egyptians accused the
interior ministry of coercing Saber after he
insisted in a televised interview from his bed in
a police hospital that security forces had rescued
him from protesters who had stripped and beaten
him. His account contradicted the video evidence,
as well as statements by eyewitnesses including
members of his own family.
"That a citizen
be dragged in a public space is a crime against
humanity. That he be forced to amend his testimony
before the Public Prosecution is tyranny," rights
lawyer Nasser Amin wrote on his Twitter account.
Saber later recanted his testimony,
indicating that it was indeed the police who beat
him. His son Ahmed told independent newspaper Al
Shorouk that his father phoned him in tears and
told him the police had "terrorized him" into
giving a false account.
The public outcry
over Saber's ordeal was further heightened by news
of the death of a 28-year old activist arrested by
police on January 27 during a protest in Cairo's
Tahrir Square. Mohamed El-Guindy's body showed
marks of electrical shocks, strangulation, three
broken ribs, a cracked skull and brain hemorrhage,
according to a medical report.
government has promised to investigate reports of
police torture and abuse. The president announced
in a Facebook message that there will be "no
return to rights abuses of citizens and their
freedoms" of the Mubarak era.
of El-Guindy's battered face and the video footage
of police beating Saber have raised doubts, say
"The Egyptian police
continue to systematically deploy violence and
torture, and at times even kill," the Egyptian
Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) said in a
report published on the second anniversary of the
uprising that toppled Mubarak.
been no thorough change, or even cosmetic
improvement, in the police apparatus, whether
related to its administrative structure,
decision-making, oversight of police work or the
reform and removal of leaders and personnel
responsible for torture and killing," the report
EIPR has documented at least a dozen
people killed by police and 11 tortured inside
police stations in the seven months since Morsi
assumed presidency. Security forces are rarely
held accountable, the report said.
two police officers have been jailed for the
deaths of more than 800 protesters killed during
the 2011 revolution. Over a hundred officers have
The Muslim Brotherhood,
the Islamist group from which Morsi hails, has
tried to distance the president from recent
incidents of police abuse and torture. A group
spokesman argued this week that Morsi needed more
time to purge the police force of a culture that
condoned the torture and humiliation of detainees,
excessive use of force, and routine bribe-taking.
Yasser Hamza, a member of the
Brotherhood's legal committee, pointed the finger
squarely at the interior minister. He said Egypt's
new constitution, hastily cobbled together and
passed in a controversial referendum in December,
absolves the president of accountability in cases
of police abuse.
"Morsi bears no
responsibility in cases of torture and killing of
demonstrators according to the new constitution,"
independent newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm quoted
Hamza as saying. He elaborated that the
constitution stipulates that the cabinet is
responsible for domestic matters, while the
president only bears responsibility for foreign
Activists are not buying it. Some
have accused Morsi of abandoning plans to reform
the police because he needs a blunt instrument to
secure his tenuous grip on power.
police are only good at one thing, beating and
humiliating Egyptians," says Mohamed Fathy, a
member of the April 6 youth movement.
televised address last week, Morsi praised
security forces for their crackdown on protests in
the Suez Canal region that left dozens dead,
including bystanders allegedly killed by police
snipers. He described the protesters as thugs and
Mubarak loyalists intent on toppling his
democratically elected government. He also
announced a 30-day state of emergency in the Canal
cities, granting security forces there arbitrary
powers to detain or arrest civilians, in effect
restoring the sweeping powers police enjoyed under
Mubarak's 29-year rule.
"Morsi gave the
police a license to use indiscriminate force
against protesters," says Fathy. "He shouldn't be
surprised that they did."