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Justice and Injustice

In January 2006, when Cairo microbus driver Emad al-Kabir saw two plainclothes police officers beating his cousin in the street, he stopped to inquire. He was taken to the station house, kicked and beaten, locked up for a week, and finally raped with a baton while the event was recorded on an officer’s cell phone. The video was distributed among his fellow drivers as a form of intimidation and humiliation, and one account says that Emad’s father died of a heart attack when he found out.

Copies of the video began to circulate from cell phone to cell phone, until they were posted to the internet by political blogger Mohammed Khaled. With activist bloggers fanning the flames, the uproar over the incident, and numerous other examples of police brutality, continued to grow. A few courageous journalists investigated, Emad’s identity was uncovered, and he agreed to go on record to tell his story.

To the surprise of many, the Egyptian justice system was shamed into acting, and Captain Islam Nabih and Corporal Reda Fathi, the officers responsible for the rape, were put on trial. But not before Emad himself was sentenced to three months in prison for “resisting authorities,” in other words for having the temerity to speak up. At their trial, the accused officers claimed the rape video was fabricated, but after months of legal maneuvering, yesterday justice was finally done, with Nabih and Fathi sentenced to three years each.

    God is great! Thank God!” shouted el-Kabir. “I regained my right. I don’t want anything more than that.”

This is one situation where bloggers have clearly made a difference, because if the video of Emad’s rape had not been posted on the internet, in the context of a campaign to expose police brutality, then the incident would never have been uncovered and he would never have found the courage to speak out. On the other hand, this incident is just one among many, and perhaps not even the most egregious, just the most egregious captured on video.

Injustice is still alive and well in Egypt, as is proven by the fact that Kareem Nabeel Suleiman, a blogger who was expelled from Al-Azhar University, disowned by his family, and jailed for expressing his views about religion and the state, is still less than a year into his four-year prison sentence. A website has been set up in solidarity with Kareem that will tell you all you need to know about his case. There is a section featuring the writing that got him in trouble, translated from Arabic, and his letters from prison of which this is the latest:

    I announce from here that my accusation is not a shame for me. I have it like a crown on my head and necklace on my chest. Everyone must know that I did not force myself to respect any tyrant law that hinders freedoms. I am against any act to limit the right of freedom of expression of any person. Laws were created to regulate the relationships between individuals inside the same society. They are not meant to limit their freedoms and violate their basic rights. […]
    Let everyone, including the tyrant judges who sentenced me and those who misused my crisis to get me, know that prison will not work out with me. […] Only stupid, weak, and inflexible people use these methods to justify their violent actions by breaking the pencils of writers and silencing their voices. They cannot achieve what they want.

There is a page where you can leave comments of support for Kareem, and the same page includes instructions for writing him in prison. The keepers of the website encourage us to do that, both to boost Kareem’s morale and to let the Egyptian authorities know “we are still watching.”

It is helpful at times to reflect on both the power and risks of blogging, of speaking out, in a world where tyrants find new excuses every day to crush dissent and extend their reach.

UPDATE: To understand how U.S. policy encourages repression in Egypt, check out this recent article by former New York Times journalist Chris Hedges, “Outsourcing Torture.”

    Mubarak, who has ruled Egypt for 26 years…can torture and “disappear” dissidents—such as the Egyptian journalist Reda Hilal, who vanished four years ago—without American censure because he does the dirty work for us on those we “disappear.” The extraordinary-rendition program, which sees the United States kidnap and detain terrorist suspects in secret prisons around the world, fits neatly with the Egyptian regime’s contempt for due process. Those rounded up by American or Egyptian security agents are never granted legal rights. The abductors are often hooded or masked. […] When these suspects arrive in Cairo they vanish into black holes as swiftly as dissident Egyptians. It is the same dirty and seamless process.
    We have nothing to say to Mubarak. He is us. […] The more savage the torture techniques of the Mubarak regime the faster the prisoners we smuggle into Egypt from Afghanistan and Iraq are broken down. The screams of Egyptians, Iraqis, Pakistanis and Afghans mingle in these prison cells to condemn us all.


Comment from Jill
Time: November 6, 2007, 11:11

Thank you eatbees, for yet another insightful article. More than anything, it’s good to know how much of a difference blogging has made/can make when it comes to issues such as these.

Comment from Hisham
Time: November 8, 2007, 02:39

Very powerful stuff! I was sickened by the pictures but I thought it’s something worth watching. Thank you mate for bringing this to your friends attention and for uncovering some of the ugly aspects of the institutionalized torture in Egypt. How many other people are being raped, abused and tormented behind the ramparts of the despicable Arab regime’s prisons?

Comment from Pierre Tristam
Time: November 8, 2007, 20:33

Terrific of you to have stayed on top of this.

Comment from eatbees
Time: November 8, 2007, 22:12

@Jill — There are so many times where blogging seems to make no difference at all, that it is great to be able to celebrate a victory. And of course, Emad deserves the credit for being willing to speak out.

@Hisham — Exactly, how many cases of injustice will never be prosecuted, compared to this ONE for which the sadists were finally held to account? And what does this say about the nature of the Mubarak regime and his American enablers? I wish that whenever Condoleezza meets with Hosni, she would think of this video….

@Pierre — The blogger 3arabawy (Hossam el-Hamalawy) deserves credit far more than me for staying on top of this story. And behind him there is a network of Egyptian activist bloggers who have explored the story of police torture from all angles. Al-Jazeera tried to make a documentary on the issue before its reporter Howaida Taha was arrested and the tapes confiscated (she was later sentenced to six months in prison) — but 3arabawy’s blog has been the best regular source of information about this, as it is for any issue of tyranny and resistance in Egypt, whether it be labor strife, blogger activism, or persecution of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Comment from davinca
Time: November 11, 2007, 07:38

fantastic work you are doing – things like this needs to be published and spread – torture of any kind must be described of what it is – cruelty and crimes against humanity – fight the growing militarisation of our societies throughout the world – we have cases of torture in Austria too … I will write about it soon …

Comment from Egypt Property
Time: August 28, 2008, 04:44

I wonder how many other people are being abused, tormented and raped behind the ramparts of the despicable Arab regime’s prisons?

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