The situation in Port Said tonight remains far from clear. What is certain is that there have been hundreds of casualties. Only last month Human Rights Watch said that unecessary overreaction of security forces had caused many needless deaths in the city.
The army denied that there were any clashes between the army and police tonight – stating rather that it had opened fire on “unknown elements”. However this video posted a few minutes ago definitely shows that the protesters believed the army were firing on security forces.
In two videos uploaded to youtube in the last week, detainees try to find the words to tell of the awful things which happened to them. In a third a child relates what he was unlucky enough to witness. All this suggesting that sexual violence has become the new norm for arrested protesters.
In the first a man struggles to relate what happened during a TV interview –
24 February 2013 –
In the second during a lengthy and difficult recounting of what happned to him, a man
has to take two retakes in order to describe how he was sexually assaulted –
20 February 2013
And even a 12 year old child has been an unfortunate witness to a sexual assault on two detainees.
Also 20 February 2013 – interview in Arabic – first minute of video transcribed below –
Interviewer: When were you most afraid?
Zeid (12 years) “When I was in the armoured police truck. In the truck I was afraid they would slit my throat. They said they’d slit my throat and throw me away and no one could help me.”
Mohamed (15 years) “The kids were crying. Only me and another person were wounded. He was hurt much worse, He’d been beaten so badly he couldn’t speak and he died on the road.”
Zeid: “In the truck there were five others. Two of them were sexually assaulted. There was a Christian called Kirollos. When they searched him they found a cross. They wanted to take it and break it in pieces.”
Mohamed “We told the officer a detainee had died. A soldier came in and checked. So we stopped in front of a hospital – I don’t know which one and they dumped him in front of the hospital and drove off with us.”
Khalid (17) “Someone with me died. They’d been kicking him. They had him on the ground and were kicking him. The officer checked his pulse, and they continued kicking him. That was all I saw. I found out later he died.”
I’m using the Image below to post on facebook when sharing.
In some ways I admire Alistair Burt, the British Minister for North Africa and the Middle East. He has one of the toughest of all ministerial responsibilities and he’s been very proactive in touring the region and there’s no doubt he’s done a lot to promote British commercial interests, but I was disappointed by a recent letter from him.
He failed to suggest any specific action that the British Government might take with regards to the appalling conditions inside Egyptian prisons, where many foreign inmates have to beg for food and some cells are so overcrowded that inmates have to walk on top of their sleeping neighbours in order to reach the toilet. Also torture and beatings remain a routine occurrence and most prisoners remain locked in their cells without any possibility of exercise.
On 31 July Alistair Burt wrote to me via my MP, Julian Brazier, outlining the FCO’s (Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s) position on this situation. He asserted
“It is important to note that the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners are recognised as recommendations or guidelines rather than legal requirements, and Rule Two of the Standard Minimum Rules states that ‘not all of the rules are capable of application in all places and at all times.’…..Rule two limits the extent to which we can use these rules as the basis for approaching the Egyptian authorities.”
In my reply posted today to my MP I wrote
“I am very disappointed….that the FCO does not appear to give a clear commitment to take any specific action with regards to overcrowding, the withholding of water, the lack of any food in police custody (except for the little which was brought in by prisoners’ relatives), the almost non existent “medical care” and many other conditions so bad they directly endanger the lives of inmates. Many of these prisoners haven’t even had the opportunity of having a verdict on their case after many years locked up in such appalling circumstances. Also such prison conditions fail to come anywhere near the basic minimum prison conditions as set out under Egyptian law.
It is worrying that with regards to the sort of overcrowding which would be considered inhumane if inflicted on animals, that the FCO should raise the fact that “it is very common throughout North and West Africa” giving the impression that the commonality of such inhumanity makes it in some way more acceptable or at least less deserving of protest. If the FCO think I have been unfair to draw such inferences I hope they will correct me.
It would be a great shame if the FCO was to focus on the legal loopholes of an old international agreement on prison conditions and overlook the fact that such treatment must also violate the most basic human rights of these prisoners as well as their rights under Egyptian law.
Below I’ve posted a copy of the letter from Alistair Burt as well as my response
A month ago I wrote to Dr. William McCrea, an MP who had been particularly outspoken on the issue of the persecution of Copts in Egypt. I asked him
How Britain might help the Coptic community in Egypt ?
What he thought about British exports of arms to Egypt ?
What he thought about one British multinational still supplying tear gas to Egypt ?
He kindly forwarded my letter to Alistair Burt, Minister for North Africa and the Middle East. I had also written earlier to Alistair Burt, and even the Prime Minister had forwarded one of my letters to him, but the Minister hadn’t so far replied to either. However this time he did reply in considerable detail.
You can read his response in detail in the attached letter. However I will try to summarize both the more encouraging and more negative aspects of his response.
What I think Egypt’s revolutionaries will like about the British Minister’s response.
His assurance that Britain continues to monitor the human rights situation in Egypt.
His obviously deep concern about the protection of and rights of Copts under any new constitution.
His assurance that the British government is encouraging SCAF to keep to its’ timetable for the transition to civilian rule. (This letter was written prior to the “judicial coup” of 14 June).
His affirmation that the British government hopes to see a new Egyptian constitution which respects the interests of “all Egyptian people.”
However Egypt’s revolutionaries and liberals will be less encouraged by
His claim that the British government can not prevent British Multinationals with factories outside the U.K. supplying the Egyptian military with crowd control material, including tear gas. He says it would “not be legally viable” and “such controls would be impossible to enforce.”
His failure to explain why the British government continues to allow British arms exports to Egypt’s military regime despite acknowledging that “human rights and fundamental freedoms are mandatory considerations for all export licence applications.”
And below are some photographs I took in February showing the effects of tear gas used on crowds. Many people were vomiting and one man had gone into convulsions.
For the first time I’m aware of, a U.K. Member of Parliament says he intends to visit Egypt to see how the country’s Christian minority is being treated. Jeffrey Donaldson, MP for Lagan Valley, Northern Ireland, has already met with Egypt’s only Christian member of parliament to offer his support and help to “raise with the UK government the plight of the persecuted Church in Egypt.”
His letter arrived the same day an Egyptian judge sentenced 12 Coptic Christians to life in prison for their alleged part in a riot in which two Muslims and a Christian were killed in the village of Abu Qurgas. However eight Muslims charged with the same crimes in the same riot were all acquitted.
Jeffrey Donaldson also says he hopes the U.K. government will tighten up the lax controls on arms exports to Egypt and other regimes where such weapons may be used for internal repression. On 9 October last year 24 protesters, mostly Coptic Christians, were killed by the army and pro-regime thugs during a demonstration near Cairo’s main television building. Some protesters were run down by armoured personnel carriers and others shot soldiers allegedly using live ammunition. The army insists they only fired blank cartridges.
Christians in Egypt are very worried about the future and despite my only personal disagreement with some of the MP’s policies on domestic social issues, I think it’s great that he should go to such lengths to try to help even if he hasn’t yet specified the date of his intended visit – here is a copy of a recent letter I received from him in which he makes his views clear.
I’ve just received a very positive response from Dr William McCrea, MP for South Antrim, saying that he regards the protection of Christians in Egypt a “very important matter.”
He writes “I am currently in correspondence with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in relation to the concerns that you have expressed in regards to this very important matter and when I receive a response I will forward the necessary information to yourself.
I’m waiting eagerly for futher news and will post it here whenever I hear anything.
In a letter just received, a key member of the Select Committee on Arms Exports says the export of weapons to Egypt is “completely unacceptable” and that she “will campaign in Parliament for this to be stopped.”
Katy Klark, Labour MP for North Ayrshire and Arran and a key member of Parliament’s Select Committee on Arms Exports, writes
“I share your concerns at the current situation in Egypt and agree that the Government should be taking robust measures to stop the sale of arms from UK companies to repressive regimes. I believe there is a strong possibility of arms sold to the Egyptian regime being used against their own people and believe it is completely unacceptable that licences for export to Egypt are being granted and I will campaign in Parliament for this to be stopped.”
Commenting on the situation involving tear gas exports by Federal Laboratories (owned by the British multinational BAE Systems) in the U.S. to Egypt she writes
“In addition there do appear to be loopholes for subsidiary companies based overseas. I would be happy to look into whether there is any way in which these can be closed.”
In a letter dated 26 April 2012 and received by me on 3 May, Sir John Stanley MP, Chairman of the House of Commons Select Committee on Arms Control, provided a list of UK British arms exports to Egypt during 2009 and 2010 which could be used for Internal Repression.
He also added that he anticipated the Parliament would submit another report, presumably with information on more recent arms exports to Egypt, before its’ summer recess on 27 July. The list of arms supplied during 2009 and 2010 is in the public domain but still makes for interesting reading.
According to the information he attached with his letter, British arms exports to Egypt during the period from 1 January 2009 until 30 September 2010 included the following
Training small arms ammunition general purpose machine guns imaging cameras components for armoured personnel carriers unfinished products for grenade launchers components for submachine guns electronic warfare equipment equipment for the operation of military aircraft in confined areas components for semi-automatic pistols unfinished products for armoured fighting vehicles unfinished products for weapon night sights
The list is not especially helpful in that it is vague as to for instance what type of training ammunition was exported and on the quantities of material.
In an apparent attempt to avoid answering questions about the wisdom of such exports, Sir John writes “It is a firm convention in the House of Commons that MPs deal with their own constituents. I am therefore sending your letter……to your own MP Julian Brazier.”
He adds that “The issue of the UK Government’s policy on giving arms export licence approvals for weapons and other goods that can be used for internal repression has received detailed scrutiny in the Committee’s current inquiry on which I anticipate we shall be submitting a further Report to the House of Commons before the summer recess.”
I was unhappy last year when David Cameron went to Tahrir Square to congratulate Egyptians on their courage in the struggle for democracy and yet at the same time he brought along directors of major British arms manufacturers in order to sell arms to the Egyptian military. I thought it was a clear case of profits before principle. Arms that SCAF will no doubt soon use against protesters. Since I left Egypt at the end of March I’ve been writing to British MPs to try to persuade them to reconsider such exports.
Denis MacShane, MP for Rotherham, who has recently taken a high profile stance against human rights abuses in Bahrain, needed little or no persuasion. His undated letter was received this morning but it doesn’t make the usually highly qualified non-committal response typical of most politicians. At least he makes it clear where he stands –
“Clearly arm sales to the region are a major problem as are the export of crowd control material. Britain has a double standard – expressing support for democracy while looking for increased arms sales.”
“I worry more generally that the US and the Western powers want to see the army stay in power.”
However he’s also concerned about the alternative of an Islamist led parliamentary government. I think perhaps he’s a little too pessimistic here as the Muslim Brotherhood covers a really wide spectrum of views and contains many moderates within its ranks. Anyway he writes
“Sadly, the deeply reactionary politics of the Islamists and Salafists which already have destroyed the rights of many women in Egypt is not an alternative. It will be a long slow process as Egypt gets a governance corresponding to the needs and aspirations of its’ people.”
I’m interested in hearing from anyone who has participated in the initial uprising in January 2011 or in any of the subsequent protests or strikes and also people anywhere who have views on the recent events in Egypt.
I’m hoping to hear from a wide range of people – students, factory workers, journalists, doctors, women, Christians, soldiers, diplomats, artists, anyone unemployed or homeless – in fact just anyone who was either involved in the revolution or subsequent protests or thinks that they were effected by it or indeed perhaps feel that they should have benefited from the revolution whereas in fact perhaps nothing has changed.
I’m a British citizen who has been photographing many of the protests in Egypt from January 2011 until February 2012 when I was arrested, imprisoned for 54 days and then deported (more on this on the My Time in Prison page.) You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact me on my facebook page – Alisdare Hickson.
Photographs on this website copyright of Alisdare Hickson.