(Original Arabic article written By Rasha Azb - @RashaPress on twitter - published in El Fagr newspaper – translation by a member of the No Military Trials Group - any translation mistakes are not hers, please blame me the translator for any such errors.)
Details of a Meeting inside the Military Area
I stood at the gates of heaven, guarding it alone. I am the sacred heart of the Square and the Job of the long black nights. I am the only star in the sky of Justice. I am certainty in the time of doubt and joyful in my intuition that allows me to charge dry language with meaning and drive a pulse into an otherwise limp body. I am the people who protected their revolution on their own, alone with no help from another. The soldiers who wear army and police uniforms follow me – the eagle and the swords hanging on their shoulders – a boon that is mine to give, and not taken upon me – because I am the source of all things.
These people deserve better than these mere words, and I know that – the people deserve more because they rose up and they all sacrificed – on the daily level by working hard and struggling to educate their children, to buy a new gas cylinder and poor loaf of bread, and by standing at the front lines of the revolution to feed its flames and to protect it – and protecting the revolution is not something that the military establishment alone concerns itself with – since you cannot deprive the maker from what he has made, and the baker from his bread – and we cannot continue to simply call for demands and rights that we earned by blood and spirit – we cannot sell the most precious part of our revolution – our pride – it’s simply not acceptable that we close the prisons of the ministry of the interior only to open up new military prisons – and we cannot allow the Central Military Judiciary Area to become the new Lazoghly (the National Security HQ where torture was common). The activists and the revolutionaries continue their battle against torture and against the military trials of civilians, against the authority of any entity that tries to control the gains that millions of Egyptians achieved for themselves. This is the message that was delivered to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces in the recent meeting which was attended by several activists and which ended with three important recommendations that are waiting for a time-table. And they are; the promise to transfer the military trials file to an investigative judge and the reconsideration of a complete cessation of military trials for civilians, a commitment to release all detained revolutionaries, as well as a commitment to fully investigate all violations and abuses committed by members of the armed forces in the last few months.
Confronting General Al-Rowainy with Videos Showing Tortured Revolutionaries
At exactly 8:30pm on the night of the Friday of Anger, the 28th of January in Tahrir Square, Egyptians, for the first time saw tanks being driven beside them. They saw the members of the elite army squadrons and saw the armored vehicles at street entrances – at this time, the population had devastated the forces of the ministry of the interior within the last four hours and the regime had no other recourse but to resort to the army.
None of us really know how the famous chant of “The Army & the People Are One!” came about but we realized immediately that it had emerged as a way to ‘pacify’ – and it was a quintessentially Egyptian way of neutralizing the new actor whose role and alliances were as yet undetermined. So the chant came out to secure the peace and to avoid another battle in what was a very volatile situation. The relationship held at that level despite the absurdities that occurred during the Battle of the Camels on February 2nd and that all happened within sight of the armed forces – except that the general feeling inside Tahrir Square was to remain non-confrontational with the army and to take cover under the chant ‘The Army & the People Are One!” – a cliché that was quickly to become of the revolution’s main clichés.
In parallel with the political role being played by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces as the sole political authority in the land, there were exercises of this authority on the ground – especially in the absence of any police forces. This clear role on the part of the Military Police and other parts of the armed forces was, by virtue of the situation, kept quiet until the events of early February 26 – the date of the first sleep-in that was evacuated by force by the army, and during which protesters were attacked and then a formal apology by SCAF was released to the press the next morning.
The storm then cleared, and protests continued with the aim of ousting the government formed and led by Shafiq – and sure enough – within 10 days of protests and sleep-ins, the entire Shafiq cabinet was dropped. On the 9th of March the tension between the protesters and the military became much more confrontational – as the army dispersed the Tahrir sleep-in at around 6pm – in cooperation with ‘civilians’ who it later turned out were members of military intelligence. Of those who were in Tahrir, twenty activists were detained and most of those were tortured and humiliated near the Egyptian Museum – and the Egyptian Museum thus remained an icon of torture for a while because of protesters being detained and arrested in its vicinity. These violent dispersals continued and were repeated at the Faculty of Media and near the State TV building at Maspero – and they reached their peak on April 9th which is now called Bullet Friday and in all these cases the army used violence. Various human rights organizations and groups of activists called attention to the recurring violence and torture but the official statements by the armed forces absolutely refused to admit to these incidents and the Supreme Military council (once again) announced that it was protecting the revolution and the revolutionaries, and so conflict remained the reality of the situation between the activist revolutionaries and the Supreme Military Council that has been behaving in this fashion for a period of almost 4 months to this date.
In this period, the performance of SCAF has varied from feeble dialogue with some of the political powers and violent conflict. It was in no way acceptable that the activists keep reporting cases of torture while SCAF insisted on rejecting as lies all reports without even announcing that it would investigate these reports to verify their authenticity. After a while, rejecting the reports of military police abuses was not enough, and SCAF released their communiqué number 50 which, in direct contradiction with communiqué 45 (which claimed the army never detained any protesters), announcing that they would release all revolutionaries detained from March 9. This is after their denial of detaining protesters and their insistence that they only arrested thugs and outlaws. Gradually, and with growing political pressure from the No Military Trials group, that was formed after violent dispersal of the March 9 protests and that has systematically worked to document violations by the military police and the armed forces, the picture started to change and these issues were raised on the large political landscape after they had been consigned to the background because of the weakness of the old political powers as well as the new ones – that chose not to address these issues since they conflicted directly with the current ruling power in Egypt.
Due to the previously mentioned reasons, the SCAF tried to reply by holding meetings and conferences with revolutionary youth to try to change the picture that had now been emerging. Calls were made for a conference in which the leadership of the armed forces spoke while the youth remained silently seated at the back of the conference hall, in addition to hundreds of protesters holding a demonstration outside the theater where the conference was held in response to SCAF statements regarding the ‘virginity-test abuses’. Of course, the ‘meeting’ turned out to be a political tool to enhance the image of SCAF and many of the attendees came out even more shocked at the performance of SCAF, not to mention that a large number of the most prominent youth coalitions had refused to attend from the very start.
There is nothing left now except conflict, and there is no way to avoid seeing the reality of the situation as it truly is. When Dr. Mamdouh Hamza, the media spokesman for the National Congress, presented a simplified memo about the violations of SCAF during the last four months and it led to a large discussion inside SCAF – which led to SCAF requesting to meet with the group most responsible for documenting military police violations and which was known as the No Military Trials group to the media – in order for them to present their findings which they had collected, in documents and in testimonies, during the last period. The idea for such a meeting was discussed within the group internally, and conditions were agreed on for such a meeting by the members. The group decided that the group itself would decide which of its members would attend the meeting, and that they would decide the topics of discussion, primarily dealing with Military Trials, violations, abuses, and the issue of virginity testing. Accordingly, all relevant documents and files were collected and presented to the representatives of the SCAF, the group also defined clear demands before attending the meeting so as to keep the focus clear. Three members of the group were specifically chosen to discuss these files, they were Ahmed Raghed, a lawyer, Ragia Omran, another lawyer, and Mona Seif, an activist from the group, also included was Dr. Ahdaf Souif and well as testimonies from a boy and a girl who had been arrested in Tahrir and subjected to physical and psychological torture, as well as Dr. Mamdouh Hamza who had helped organize the meeting.
For five days, the No Military Trials group worked on preparing the files it was to present to the SCAF as documentary evidence for discussion, and on the morning of Monday, at exactly 12pm the group arrived at the headquarters of the central military area in Abbaseya to commence their dialogue with General Hassan El Rowainy the leader of the central military area and General Said Abbass and General Magdy Barakat, and in contradiction to most ‘dialogues’ between revolutionaries and the SCAF, the revolutionaries started to talk while the members of SCAF listened as several files were put before them – all documenting and proving many instances of army violations and abuses. The generals were forced to deal with these files, since they could no longer deny them, however, this is not to say that General Rowainy did not, in fact, look surprised by the images of torture he saw, and the testimony he heard from live witnesses, and he also apologized to one of them, Marwa, for what happened to her at in military detention, assuring that such actions were individual actions and did not represent the morality of the army or its basic principles.
Threatening Female Protesters with Prostitution Charges
This file was explosive, and took the lion’s share of the meeting (with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces – henceforth SCAF) due to the complications it brings about and the many cases involved, perhaps also because it was the mine that blew up the relationship between the revolutionaries and the SCAF during the last period. The file contained many abuses classified by the categories inside it; physical abuses like the severe bodily torture that many of the revolutionaries were subjected to besides the Egyptian Museum on the 9th of March, 2011. What happened that day can be summarizes as follows: a large number of protesters were collected in an open space and thrown on the ground; they were not allowed to lift their heads, and then a torture party started in which they were tortured with electrical cables, whips, batons, and thick black leather. Of the 170 youth captured, none were spared in rounds of torture that was all too similar to the infamous torture parties held by the (now supposedly defunct, but in fact mostly re-named) National Security.
Of course these cases were revealed, by some who were released that day - such as Ramy Essam, who is known for singing revolutionary songs in Tahrir and who was subjected to a special torture party in addition to having his hair shaved by a razor and being made to kneel for prolonged periods of time. Ramy’s testimony was presented – in video and in photographs – all taken immediately upon his release from the Museum – as he told people about his horrible experiences. Besides Ramy’s testimony, another testimony was presented by the actor Ali Sobhy who continued the torture journey and was taken to Military Detention – where he was subjected to brutal humiliations, foremost in his mind was seeing photographs of Ex-President Mubarak still hanging on the walls of the Military Prisons, something which the protesters could scarcely believe!
The testimony’s came from 35 revolutionaries and citizens that had been detained since the revolution began, and these are testimonies that the Nadim Center for Mental Rehabilitation exposed. These testimonies presented an enormous amount of information regarding how torture had become a systematic instrument in dealing with all those detained since March 9 – amongst which are workers, journalists, company managers, housewives, students, and engineers – all of whom were detained from Tahrir or while breaking up the demonstrations at Lazoghly. It was very clear from all the testimonies that those detained were subjected to psychological trauma and abuse, and that the intention was to insult the revolution and all those who had participated in it. It’s worth noting that the testimonies also included 50 testimonies from Mansoura – from people who had been arrested there on February the 3rd – i.e. – during the revolution proper – all of which indicates the reality – that the detention and torture of revolutionaries started a long time ago, while the pace of events distracted people from these detentions. It also proves that the revolutionaries were being at military prisons during the revolution, because they were participating in the revolution. Not only that, but the testimonies indicate that the tortures and interrogations were happening inside the Military Police headquarters at Nasr City, or at the Military Prisons in the Hikestep – since the very first days of the revolution. Of those that were released, many were stripped of most of their clothing and taken and abandoned in the desert, which, in some cases, led to deaths as they tried to make their way home.
As for the treatment of girls during these traumatic experiences, most of the testimonies agreed that the members of the armed forces treated them as though they were prostitutes coming from a whore house, and meant to insult them accordingly so as to pile on the psychological and emotional abuse, this of course, reached its peak with the ‘virginity tests’ – which the leadership of the armed forces defended as being part of the normal military protocol used with females who work in the army. The girls were subjected to these tests against their wills and after most of them had been electrocuted after they had refused this vile procedure. The girls were also threatened that they would be faced with prostitution charges if they did not submit to having their ‘virginity’ tested.
Thousands of Protesters in Prison since January 28
The file regarding the military trials that Egypt has been seeing over the last few months, and specifically since the army took to the streets of Egypt since January 28th – includes the text of the military statements starting from the 1st statement, going through the 23rd, the 24th, the 34th, the 45th, and finally SCAF’s statement No. 50. These statements clearly outlined a commitment from the SCAF to protect demonstrators and revolutionaries, then showed the choice to detain some of them, and then finally to release some of them after a journey of torture that last several long months. In this file, are thousands of cases of Egyptians who have been subjected to military courts without being provided any legal guarantees to defend themselves or even to allow their loved ones to know where they are in any definitive way, and the lawyers who attended some of the trials stated that trying civilians in military courts is a violation of their basic human rights. The lawyers also revealed that they had been mistreated and harassed inside the offices of the military prosecution, that they had not been given any clear information about those accused and how they were to be tried or even how the lawyers could go about defending them, all of which is a clear and disturbing obstruction to justice. The information also made it clear that the numbers of those tried in military courts reaches to the thousands – all of whom were presented to the military courts without lawyers and who had been arrested in Tahrir, and various neighborhoods and governorates, and had been distributed in various prisons in Qatta, Fayoum, and El Wadi El Gadeed – the lawyers thus asked for a prompt declaration of all the names of those detained under the military judiciary and that their files be transferred to a civilian judge to be re-tried under better circumstances and in the presence of lawyers. A preliminary list of 153 detainees who had been tried without lawyers was also presented.