Egypt protesters tell stories of torture, abuse at Ittihadiya presidential palace

Salma Shukrallah , Monday 4 Nov 2013

Ahram Online republishes testimonies from opposition activists who said they were subject to torture at hands of Muslim Brotherhood members during the December 2012 bloody clashes between supporters, opponents of President Morsi

Mohammed Morsi
Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi supporters clash with opponents, not pictured, outside the presidential palace, in Cairo (Photo: AP)

Wednesday's bloody clashes between supporters and opponents of President Mohamed Morsi left behind not only ten killed and hundreds injured but also dozens of accounts of torture, revealing a frightening degree of hate speech that many fear will only leave Egypt further polarised.

"I was dragged on the ground from among opposition demonstrators and for ten to 15 minutes surrounded by dozens [of pro-morsi demonstrators] who beat me with metal rods and wooden sticks in all parts of my body. One man used a knife to cut me across my chest," Rami Sabry a pharmacist and opposition activist, said at a press conference one week after the clashes.

"They took out my ID card and someone shouted 'He's a Christian!' so the violence grew more intense... Minutes later, someone shouted 'He's from the Socialist Popular Alliance Party!' – having found my membership card – so the violence grew even worse," he recounted.

A video of a visibly beaten Sabry tied up outside the presidential palace doors was circulated on social media and picked up later by several private satellite channels. Another video showed a man with a bloody nose and bruises around his eyes being beaten in the head as his tormenter demanded he confess to being a "paid thug."

Yehia Zakaria, a former diplomat who was among those detained by Morsi supporters, explained that as he – along with dozens of others – were left to bleed outside the palace, their captives were able to enter and exit the palace "as if it was their home."

"They stripped us of everything we had, including watches, money and wallets. When they saw 'diplomat' on my ID, they kept repeating, 'You're with Amr Moussa, you receive foreign funding, you're a spy!' To them, me and my colleagues were either paid spies, thugs or infidels," Zakaria asserted.

The former diplomat, who had been in exile for years under the Mubarak regime and was only able to return to Egypt after last year's revolution, went on to say that, by the end of Wednesday, there were some 50 people, including a 14-year-old boy, laying beside him at the palace doors – bound, beaten and refused any form of medical care.

"When two young doctors finally arrived, I asked one if he could check the cut to my head. But he refused, saying he had instructions not to treat us. We were only provided with bandages to minimize the bleeding," he said.

"Another female doctor was worse," he added. "She would kick each one of us every time she passed, saying we weren't human beings... 'You're not like us,' she kept saying."

In her testimony, Rania Hassan of the Dostour Party alleged that, while Morsi supporters were attacking an opposition sit-in earlier in the day, she was chased by several men who eventually cornered her. One of them, she says, tore the veil off her head, saying, "Infidels do not wear veils," before slapping her in the face repeatedly and spitting on her.

The clashes first erupted on Wednesday after supporters of the president attacked a sit-in held by opposition protesters in front of the presidential palace following a mass demonstration demanding the cancellation of a controversial presidential decree. More than twenty similar stories have since been recounted about the incident, most of them characterised by excessive violence and brutality.

'Only a reaction'

Ahmed Sobai of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, for his part, told Ahram Online that violence was committed by both sides. He said the aggression against opposition protesters was "only a reaction" to violence meted out against Morsi supporters.

"Most of those detained that day were thugs with knives and metal chains, along with some revolutionaries who were mistaken for thugs and arrested in the confusion," he said.

He added: "There's an army of militias admittedly paid for by Mubarak's [now-defunct] National Democratic Party, which we are fighting... They were the ones committing the massacre, and that is why the reaction was violent."

"The incitement campaign justifying the violence is simply frightening," said Aida Seif El-Dawla of the Nadim Centre for the Rehabilitation of Torture Victims. Before Mubarak's ouster last year, Seif El-Dawla had often been involved in cases defending and treating Brotherhood victims of torture.

"It's strange to see people who were once victims turn into perpetrators... What I realised is that they [the Brotherhood] only see torture as a crime depending on who is being tortured and who is doing the torturing... They did not even include an article against torture in the draft constitution," she said.

Seif El-Dawla went on to explain that this was not the first time for Brotherhood members to be accused of torture. A video recently circulated on social media websites showing the head of Egypt's dentists syndicate, also a Brotherhood member, torturing one of those captured during last year's 18-day uprising.

"The strange thing is that he allowed the media to film him as he was torturing the man. This means that he didn't think what he was doing was wrong," she said.

According to Ragab, among those present during his interrogation at the presidential palace were two Brotherhood leaders from the Sharqiya governorate, including one who identified himself as 'Alaa Hamza.'

Activist Ola Shahba also said that those beating her up and questioning her had not been afraid to reveal their names.

"They seemed to know that they would not be held accountable for what they were doing," she said.

Tarek Fahmy, political science professor at Cairo University, holds both sides responsible for last week's violence even if one side acts with more brutality.

Fahmy believes the recent violence is a result of the current state of "illogical polarisation," as he describes it.

"This polarisation will only get worse, eventually making Egypt a failed state," Fahmy told Ahram Online. "The current polarisation will extend on from the referendum, into the next parliamentary elections and so on."

He added: "No matter the outcome of the referendum or upcoming elections, each party will challenge the results and manipulate the facts, depending on their position. This will only hinder the formation of state institutions and lead to a failed state."

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