What happened on the day of the “historic” referendum [on changes to electoral law] is a black spot in the history of the Egyptian regime and its security forces. The day before the minister of interior announced that he will meet any breach of “legitimacy” with severe firmness. And so it was. The police prepared themselves for this firmness in proportion to the historic nature of the day.
Small groups of demonstrators were gathering to express their opinion regarding the referendum — concerning article 76 of the constitution; a referendum which the coalition of opposition parties (seven parties) and the Egyptian Movement and Popular Campaign for Change (Kefaya — “Enough” in Arabic) have called to boycott.
The demonstrators reached the meeting location in the Darieh Sa’ad area at Cairo city centre. As usual tens of riot police vans were waiting for them. Before the demonstrators even started, news arrived that members of the [Egyptian] Labour Party were arrested.
A few minutes later minibuses arrived carrying dozens of young men, some of them younger than sixteen. Neither their language, nor their age indicated that those were members of any political parties, as clearly shown later in the day. They were groups of hooligans carrying banners, some of which in English, and pictures of president Hosni Mubarak.
The demonstrators had already been encircled by the police and pushed to a narrow pavement. The rest of the street was cleared for the hooligans, who not only occupied it but also started moving towards the encircled demonstrators, after the police had opened a small path for them to enter. They climbed on top of parked cars and started harassing the demonstrators, beating them, using obscene language and accusing them of betrayal and treason.
Those “troops” beat the demonstrators, while the police stood by and watched before they decided to lead some of the demonstrators to a nearby pharmacy, allegedly to protect them, leaving a few to guard them. Those few were among the very same troops which were beating them up 10 minutes earlier.
After about an hour, and to avoid a massacre which seemed inevitable, the demonstrators decided to move to the press syndicate to join the protesters there. At once the hooligan contractor, wearing a badge of the ruling National Democratic Party, called in his microphone ordering his troops to move at once towards the press syndicate.
The following are testimonies from some of the demonstrators
What happened is too much to be described. More than a hundred young men organised in ten concentric circles around seven to nine young men and a woman from the Kefaya demonstration. One of the police officers points to the woman and shouts: 'Bring her this'. They grabbed her. They tore her clothes until she became almost naked, covered only with the little that was left. Then one of the men threw her to the ground and jumped on top of her. Some of the others held her legs and arms, while the other was molesting her. She was screaming. I saw it happen from a higher floor at the press syndicate.
From below it was impossible to see what was happening, because they were totally on top of her. I saw her crawl on the floor inside the circle, trying to get rid of this animal, only to have someone else fall on top of her. She almost died. When some of the security men finally decided to take her out for fear she might be killed, she was naked. It was a horrible scene. An hour and a half later the same scene was repeated… except the victim was another young woman. It was frightening. I imagined she was my sister or my wife. I was paralysed. I was unable to save her. I felt helpless. It was a horrible thing to feel.
Dr Laila Soueif, lecturer at Faculty of Science, Cairo University
We were harassed by those hooligans several times. They verbally and physical abused us several times in front of the police. At the end they continued to beat us uninterruptedly. Then the police intervened and pushed us into one of the pharmacies, Pharmacy Iman in Nubar Street, under the pretext of protecting us.
Then they withdrew and left us to the mercy of tens of hooligans who locked us inside. With me were Alaa Seif, Bahaa Risk, Rabab and Hend
Dr Magda Adly, physician at El Nadim Centre
After most of the demonstrators had left for the Press syndicate we heard that Dr Laila Soueif and others are held inside the Pharmacy Iman. I hurried with Aida Seif El Dawla towards the pharmacy. We tried to enter. We were met by a large number of men. Some of them blocked the entrance of the pharmacy and pushed us away. The remainder of the men hit us, pushed us around and tried to strip us of our clothes. Again this took place in the presence of a number of police officers, some of them high ranking.
I addressed one of those high-ranking officers and told him to get Dr Laila Soueif and the rest of our colleagues from the pharmacy. He said: “OK, but those men [thugs] have to leave first. How do you think I can enter into the pharmacy with those men blocking it?”
We were standing on the stairs of the Press Syndicate. A large number of men arrived. The police were also there. They led them towards us. We kept retreating. The security forces prevented us from entering the syndicate. The hooligans occupied the whole of the stairs.
We jumped from the stairs and went into the garage. The officer told us: “Stay here… we shall protect you!” They brought a line of soldiers and encircled us completely except for a single point of entrance towards the stairs and from there they let those hooligans in and a group of bodybuilders (very tall, muscular men, like cinema stuntmen). And they stood by and watched.
The men beat us brutally. We screamed for help. They tore off our clothes. We had a journalist among us. He told them he was a journalist. They beat him all the same. I fell to the ground and crawled between the legs until I reached outside the police circle. I had several other colleagues with me. When we left that circle of horror, the hooligans chased us until Kasr El Nil Street. We jumped into taxis and escaped.
Adel Wassily, engineer
After we reached the press syndicate and stood on its stairs the hooligans came. The police led them to the stairs where we were standing and encircled both groups with large numbers of police. They started pulling us one by one and beat us.
The women were terribly humiliated and harassed. I saw a woman journalist. They beat her and tried to open her trousers to strip her. Another pregnant women was kicked in her abdomen. Some were injured and were bleeding. I pulled the journalist out of their hands. They surrounded me and beat me brutally.
The police closed the gates of the syndicate preventing any of us entering for protection. I tried to leave with engineer Mohsen Hashem to seek refuge in the nearby Lawyers Association. They ran after us. They caught us and tried to kidnap Mohsen Hashem. With great difficulty we managed to reach the Lawyers Association and could not leave because it surrounded by dozens of hooligans.
I went to join the Kefaya ['Enough” in Arabic] demonstration at the Press Syndicate. I was wearing the Kefaya badge and was leaning on a wall because I have recently had an surgery on my neck. Those men attacked me and beat me brutally and tore my clothes and underclothes until I was naked.
The police was standing there, watching. What has happened is a major violation, a violation of women in the streets of Cairo. The streets became an Abu Ghraib prison. It was clear those were the orders of the police. I caught the hooligan who tore my clothes. But he was helped to escape by the police. I shall file a complaint. I know how he looks like. I shall not let him go.
Safaa Zaki Murad, lawyer
We went to Zein El Abedin police station to look for the demonstrators who were arrested from the Dareeh Sa’ad area. We were not allowed to enter. The police station denied their presence. We were surrounded by a number of hooligans. A while later we were attacked by butchers from the nearby slaughterhouse.
They came with their cattle, cows and sheep. In the minutes when we were distracted by escaping the attack by the cows and butchers, they had transferred the arrested demonstrators, put them in a car and took them to an unknown destination. Until now we do not know where they took them.
These testimonies are only those received at the time of writing (3pm, 25 May 2005).
The police have arrested a number of demonstrators. The following are the names we have identified so far: Tamer Wagieh, Hani Riad, Mohamed Mahmoud, Dia El Sawi, Akran El Irani, Yasser Soliman (cameraman for al-Jazeera).
Report issued by the following organisations:
Egyptian Association Against Torture
Hisham Mubarak Law Center
El Nadim Centre
Arab Network For Human Rights Information
Egyptian Initiative For Personal Rights
Foundation for Egyptian Woman’s Issues
Egyptian Centre For Women’s Rights
What you can do
Write, e-mail or phone the Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and the Egyptian Ambassador. Write to your MP and ask him or her why the British government is still backing a regime which denies its citizens their basic democratic rights.
His Excellency Mohammad Hosni Mubarak,
President of the Arab Republic of Egypt,
His Excellency Mr Adel El Gazzar,
Embassy of the Arab Republic of Egypt,
26 South Street
London W1Y 6DD