CAIRO: Amid the global swine flu mania and Egypt’s mindless pig massacre, another manifestation of pure chaos and inexplicable aggression marred the steps of the State Council building earlier this week.
For journalists and TV networks, it was business as usual as they set off to their destination on May 4 a little before noon. The State Council was hearing a couple of high profile cases that day, the most important of which was the controversial case concerning the export of gas to Israel, so naturally, there was a heavy media presence.
What was not business as usual, however, was the exaggerated security presence at the scene, complete with plain-clothed thugs, an estimated 30 riot police trucks and state security investigators.
Inside the courtroom, the case was adjourned on a procedure related to the a motion filed by the complainants to change the presiding judges due to their alleged ties to the government. However, as the campaign supporters stepped outside, everything suddenly went out of hand.
The approximately 25 protestors were outnumbered by the hoards of plain-clothed thugs occupying the steps and were instantly prevented from chanting a single slogan in remembrance of Egyptian soldiers who died in the 1973 war with Israel. And before they had time to bat an eyelid, the journalists and TV crews who were there to cover the case suddenly found themselves on the wrong end of riot police batons, their equipment confiscated and subjected to all manner of verbal abuse, physical aggression, intimidation and insults. Two people fell to the ground during these clashes, including Al-Ahaly journalist Seham Shehata who was suddenly seen on her back and has suffered bruising as a result of the fall.
The sudden burst of violence was all the more unexpected since the handful of April 6 Youth Movement protestors who had planned an anti-regime protest at the same place to mark the president’s birthday, had already been packed into a police truck and hauled off to the Dokki police station. They were kept there in the scorching heat until 11 pm and then released the same night.
There was no rhyme or reason to any of it.
Later that night on “Al-Ashera Masaan , a popular daily talk show on Dream TV, host Mona El-Shazly lashed out at what she described as unacceptable behavior towards journalists who were only there to do their job. In a phone-in interview, she spoke to the program’s correspondent, who described in detail how he was beaten and almost stripped of his clothes by security in the middle of the street as he tried to object to the depraved curse words being hurled at his female colleague.
El-Shazly demanded an explanation from the Ministry of Interior, which responded by expressing it’s “consternation at what happened and opening an investigation into the incident.
But we all know the fate of these investigations. We all remember what happened in May 2005 when female journalists and activists were assaulted by loyalists from the ruling National Democratic Party during voting on a referendum on article 76 regulating presidential elections. Women were groped and assaulted under the very noses of uniformed police officers, many top brass. But strange enough, the ensuing investigation, which incidentally lasted many months, was unable to identify them.
So I was naturally infuriated when the deputy head of the National Council for Human Rights Ahmed Kamal Abul Magd (who criticized what he termed the media’s “provocation flu ) during the belated launch of the council’s 2008 report, highlighted the mere fact that government replies to their queries, as a “positive development.
Even though the new report was generally bolder than it’s predecessors, with all due respect Mr Abul Magd, this is the least the interior ministry can do; especially since in the very same report, you cite 7,588 cases of forced disappearance, and incidents of administrative detention in 2008 alone. Now that’s the real provocation.
We’ll keep you posted on the State Council incident investigation in any case.
Rania Al Malky is the Chief Editor of Daily News Egypt.