CAIRO: Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit lashed out on Sunday at American criticism of Egypt’s human rights record under President Mubarak’s rule, denouncing what he called “interference in Egyptian affairs.
This came after US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice expressed concern about the health of jailed opposition leader Ayman Nour.
Coming on the heels of two stories of police brutality in the delta – one of which ended with the death of a child – some say Aboul Gheit’s saber-rattling did less to showcase government resolve than it did to demonstrate the divide between the regime’s words and deeds on human rights.
Despite the solidity of Egyptian-American relations, Egypt doesn t think that allows anyone – even the United States – to interfere in its internal affairs, said Aboul Gheit.
Egyptian affairs concern Egypt. Egyptian law is the master on Egyptian territory and we reject some people s attempts at interference.
Government statements denouncing foreign pressure have become more frequent in recent months as the United States debated tying portions of its annual military aid to Egypt to improvements in human rights.
In June, the US House of Representatives voted to withhold $200 million of aid – out of a total sum of $2 billion – until some improvements were made. The measure will not become law until passed by the Senate. Many observers say this is an unlikely prospect.
Egypt’s attack on foreign meddling in local human rights issues comes at a macabre time. Local media reports are currently abuzz with two disturbing stories of torture and murder at the hands of police in Dakhaliah province.
On July 31, police came to the home of Ali Ahmed Abdullah in the village of Telbana to arrest him on unstated charges, but he was not at home. Ali’s brother Nasr came to the house to speak to the police on behalf of his brother’s wife and daughters, but the conversation soon turned violent. According to witnesses, police began to brutally beat him and other family members in the street with metal bars and wooden clubs.
Nasr was detained and brought to the police station, where lawyers later found him unconscious and tied to the legs of a desk. After his release he died of his wounds, and police claimed he had been a drug dealer.
Fearing unrest during his funeral, the government surrounded the village with state security troop carriers. As tensions rose, police fired tear gas into the funeral and arrested 13 people.
“Nasr was arrested because the police wanted to extort money out of his family, like he was a hostage, alleged Magda Adly, director of the Nadeem Center, which led a fact-finding mission to the village after the incident.
“The police say he was selling hashish out of his house, but before they went there they had no permission from police to arrest anyone or conduct a search, she adds. “They did not start talking about drugs until after he had died. Days later, in the nearby village of Shaha in Mansoura province, Mohamed Mamdouh Abdel Aziz, aged 13, was arrested for petty theft and detained in a local police station.
While in custody, his family says, he was brutally beaten and shocked with electricity for six days before neighbors found his comatose body lying in the street next to the village gas station. He was brought to Mansoura hospital, where he was treated for four days before dying of his injuries on Aug.12.
Although local media reports expressed outrage at Abdel Aziz’s young age, the deaths of him and Abdullah are sadly not an unusual occurrence in Egypt. Many observers say that both police brutality and torture are widespread.
Since 1996, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture has maintained that torture is a policy of the Egyptian government. The UN says beatings, sexual assault and violence are used “systemically throughout the criminal justice system and in matters related to the state security police.
Human rights activists say that the only way to end these abuses is to punish the perpetrators. But many agree that the regime has little stomach for rooting out such a deeply embedded problem.
“No matter how gruesome the crimes are, or how much pressure is put on the government by the United States and the European Union, the regime is not willing to punish the perpetrators by the appropriate means, said Gamal Eid, the director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information.
“All we ever see is a slap on the wrist, he added. “Police brutality will never stop until the regime is willing to punish the perpetrators, who as police officers are also a part of the regime.
According to Gasser Abdel Razek, the Middle East and North Africa regional director for Human Rights Watch, ending torture in Egypt is more about local political will than it is about foreign interference.
He points to a number of common sense steps the government could take to rein in police violence. Chief among them are changing the legal definition of torture, which is currently not in agreement with the standard set by international law; establishing an independent commission to investigate torture; and placing detention centers used by police and state security interrogators under judicial oversight.
But none of these measures has been adopted by the government, nor does it seem in a hurry to do so.
“There are many simple things that can be done to show that there is the political will to end the prevalence of torture in Egypt, said Abdel Razek. “It would take very little effort, time or money to do any of these things, but they are not being done.
“Egypt can do or refuse to do whatever it wants in its bilateral relationship with the United States, he added, “but this country is bound by its commitments to international human rights law.