Before daybreak on Friday 4 March, police intelligence units arrested men, women and children in Sarandu. They violently beat residents, sparing nobody.
Homes were violated and doors broken as whole families were arrested and taken in trucks to the security headquarters in the nearby city of Damanhour.
Several men were taken to a detention centre and were later charged with encroaching on the land of Salah Nawar. He is a former landowner, whose lands had been included in an agricultural reform programme decades before.
The police also arrested more than 25 women, along with their children and babies. The women were beaten with their hands tied behind their backs. They were tied together with the braids of their hair and loaded into trucks.
Nawar took advantage of the confusion following the raid to grab the land. While state security forces besieged the village and cut phone lines to prevent communication with the outside world, he sent in trucks full of hired thugs to take control.
On 10 March the security forces began another raid on the neighbouring Bahareyya village. We were in the area when this raid took place. Dozens of children have told us of women and girls being arrested and of police using long sticks to beat women on the soles of their feet.
While the men are detained, women in the village are being kept in a concrete house that has been converted into a prison. One woman, who is six months pregnant, was kicked so violently that she suffered severe bleeding and had to be admitted to hospital.
Just two hours from Cairo, the Egyptian state is holding hostage dozens of “virgins”—to use the words of their mothers—in homes once owned by the farmers, now turned into makeshift prisons.
Mothers are offering themselves to be held in place of their daughters for fear that some “harm” might befall them.
Further attacks on Sarandu have followed. Nefissa, 30, a peasant woman with five children, was detained in an unknown location for two days. When she was released her health had markedly deteriorated.
On 14 March she lost consciousness and her family took her to hospital. Nefissa died the next day.
When we visited the village, her terrified mother denied that Nefissa was even arrested.
But Nefissa’s six year old son was weeping and saying, “Mohamed Ammar killed my mother.” Ammar is the police intelligence officer who led the raid.
Police agents within the village had warned the women of “intolerable” consequences, should they speak to us.
The next day, hundreds of Egyptians demonstrated in front of the office of the prosecutor general, protesting against the eviction of peasants from their land, police torture and the extreme brutality of the raids.
Riot police, armed with batons, surrounded the protest and demonstrators were attacked. Four activists, including an Egyptian MP, were detained. They were only released after further protests.
There are plans to hold a special seminar in honour of the farmers of Sarandu and the striking Egyptian workers in the asbestos and weaving industries at the third Cairo Conference. This international anti-imperialist and anti-globalisation gathering was set to begin this week.
Messages protesting about the attacks on Sarandu and Bahareyya can be sent to Muhammad Hosni Mubarak, President of the Arab Republic of Egypt. Fax: 00202 390 1998. E-mail: [email protected]
Aida Seif al-Dawla is a founder member of the Egyptian Association Against Torture and her work was recently recognised by Human Rights Watch. For more on the Cairo Conference go to www.stopwar.org.uk