EGYPT: On anniversary of Khaled Said’s death, complaints of police brutality, corruption
Babylon & Beyond Blog
By Molly Hennessy-Fiske and Amro Hassan in Cairo

Police brutality was part of what motivated people to take to the streets and protest during Egypt’s revolution, which culminated in the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak on Feb. 11.

Among the most famous cases was that of 28-year-old Khaled Said, who died a year ago Monday, after allegedly being dragged out of an Internet café and beaten in the street by plainclothes police in Alexandria. At first, a medical examiner reported that Said choked to death, but when images of Said’s bloodied face surfaced on the Internet, outraged youth organized on Facebook and called for demonstrations. Said’s name became a rallying cry for protesters across the country, with many chanting, “We are all Khaled Said!”

One of the coordinators of the Facebook group, Google executive Wael Ghonim, became a target for security forces when he was arrested Jan. 28 during protests in Cairo. His televised speech upon his release from detention transformed him, too, into a symbol of the youth revolution.

Two officers were eventually charged in connection with Said’s death, and went on trial in Alexandria in July 2010, although the trial has been adjourned and a verdict is not expected until June 30.

On Monday, Said’s mother, Laila Marzouq, visited his grave in Alexandria and activists in Cairo staged demonstrations in Said’s memory in front of the Boulaq al Dakrour police station and the Interior Ministry.

“Khaled Said, tomorrow will rise a new dawn,” chanted about 200 people at the Interior Ministry. “People want the purification of the Interior Ministry.”‘

The protesters carried posters of Said and painted a photo of him on the ministry’s gate.

“The practices of police officers are still the same as they were before the revolution,” said one of the protesters, Mohamed Abdullah, 37, who works in a mosque. “It’s like they are punishing us for the revolution. I live in the district of Shubra el Kheima [north of Cairo] and I still witness the brutality of officers at the police station there. While they still practice such brutality in defending the station, they still refuse to come out and protect us from thugs filling the area. It’s like they are unleashing those thugs against us.”

He said he recently tried to report an incident to a police officer, but the officer refused to investigate.

“He’s afraid of getting punished by the ministry if he confronts any criminal. What we need is a constitution that respects human rights and regulates the work of officers according to the law so officers would be obliged to protect us without violating our rights,” Abdullah said. “In my neighborhood, shop owners are struggling because they are left unsecured and always feel unsafe because officers refuse to protect them.”

Post-revolution, Egyptians have increasingly complained about security concerns. The majority of people consider the country unsafe, and increased stability is among their chief demands of the new government, according to a recent government study cited in Monday’s Al Ahram newspaper.

Two other polls released Sunday by Gallup and the Washington, D.C.-based International Republican Institute based on April surveys, the first since Mubarak’s ouster, also highlighted security as a leading concern among voters, along with the economy, which many analysts observe is in part dependent on security.

On Friday, about 200 protesters gathered outside a police station in central Cairo, calling for an investigation into the death of 40-year-old bus driver Mohamed Nasser, allegedly at the hands of police. The Interior minister has ordered an investigation in Nasser’s case and those of several others allegedly tortured by police since the revolution.

The Interior Ministry released a statement this week claiming Nasser was wounded after he was attacked by passersby who saw him attacking a police officer. Nasser became ill on his way to the police station and was taken to a hospital where he died, according to the statement.

Most of the police officers accused of killing and seriously wounding demonstrators during Egypt’s uprising have yet to be prosecuted, and many remain on duty, activists said.

Some business owners also complained that police have returned to threatening them and demanding bribes, a practice suspended during the revolution, according to reports in Al Ahram.

Under Egypt’s emergency law, police may detain and investigate people without charging them. One of the protesters’ demands during the revolution was to lift the state of emergency, which lasted the length of Mubarak’s 30-year regime, but four months later, the law remains in effect.

Some activists have complained that the transitional government uses security concerns to justify police brutality and human rights violations.

“Security & stability do not mandate the outright or veiled violation of people’s rights, freedoms or dignity,” liberal presidential hopeful Mohamed ElBaradei tweeted recently. A year ago, ElBaradei, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, visited Said’s family in Alexandria and led a protest in his honor against police brutality.

The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies has submitted a proposal to the Interior Ministry and interim Prime Minister Essam Sharaf stressing that “human rights organizations should be involved in the rehabilitation and training of law-enforcement personnel, both administrative and security cadres … daily institutional relations of cooperation, both centralized and decentralized, must be established between human rights organizations and the primary bodies within the Interior Ministry, including police stations and security directorates … [and] the state of emergency must be lifted immediately.”

“We want to have a plan of action on police reform,” said Nihal El Banna, an education program assistant at the institute.

Banna said it is crucial to rebuild the country’s police force ahead of parliamentary elections planned for September and the presidential election that will follow.

“Civil society has to oversee or be part of this restructuring during this transitional period because this will establish the balance of power,” she said. “This can’t be done once we have a parliament and president.”

Speaking with Amnesty International, activist Sally El-Bayoumi — formerly with Amnesty, now at the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies — said she thinks Egyptians are united in their desire for police reform.

“Today there’s a strong political will for real security reform,” she said. “I believe that a public, internal investigation should be announced into all the problems that led to mass human rights violations, to learn how the police could learn to be a protector and not a violator of human rights.”

State officials have said they are restructuring state security and that veteran personnel transferred to the new agency did not commit any human rights violations under the previous regime. Those involved in torture were offered early retirement packages, a national security officer told Al Ahram.  

Italian government officials have offered Egypt’s transitional government a debt-for-development deal that would reduce the country’s deepening debt in exchange for allowing Italian instructors to train police, but it was not clear this week whether Egypt’s ruling military council planned to take them up on the offer.

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