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News & Analysis

El-Sisi’s Dungeons Have Become Killing Grounds For Political Prisoners

Yusuf Dhia-Allah

That the Arabian potentates are a despicable bunch is not in doubt. They compete with each other for the title of being the most oppressive and brutal. Two rulers, however, stand out among this tyrannical bunch: Muhammad bin Salman (MbS) of Saudi Arabia and General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt.

MbS gained notoriety for ordering the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul and then having his body chopped up with a bone saw before having it dissolved in acid. For this grim act, he earned the epithet, “Mr. Bone Saw”. El-Sisi came to power by slaughtering entirely peaceful civilians, among them women and children, in August 2013. He even ordered his troops to attack funeral processions.

Thereafter, his goons rounded up tens of thousands of people and threw them in the dungeons of Egypt. If they were ever put on trial, it was before a military court where convictions are a foregone conclusion. Those that escaped the death penalty because the charges were so ludicrous that even the clownish judges could not order their execution, a life sentence or at least 15 years in jail was considered mandatory.

This oppressive policy has resulted in at least 65,000 political prisoners languishing in Egyptian jails. Of these, some 26,000 are held in pre-trial detention. Conditions in these prisons are so appalling that last month, three prisoners died within a span of three days.

In addition to the appalling conditions—small stinking cells with no ventilation, and in other cases cages with no protection from the blistering sun—it is not surprising that most prisoners become sick. Some are already heart patients or suffer from other ailments. Medication is deliberately denied resulting in what would otherwise be preventable death. The Egyptian Network for Human Rights (ENHR) said in a statement on September 14 that the three men who died in prison last month were opponents of el-Sisi’s regime and had been held arbitrarily.

One of the political prisoners, Mohammed Zaki, died on September 10 in Gamasa prison due to lack of medical care and his deteriorating health condition. He was “convicted” by a military court to a 15-year prison sentence in 2014, accused of taking part in the burning of the Ismailia Courts Complex.

Egypt’s military courts are notorious for handing down harsh sentences. Charges are laid following forced confessions extracted under torture from detainees. In order to end the torture that includes beatings, held in extremely stressful positions or even dogs set upon them, detainees sign confession sheets placed before them.

Even after such horrific torture, if some detainees still hold out, that does not provide them relief. “Confessions” of other detainees unrelated to their activities are used against them. The aim is to provide some evidence, however tenuous, in court to secure conviction. The ever-eager judges are there to comply. Their aim is to please the brute in uniform: El-Sisi.

The Egyptian Network for Human Rights provided details about the detainees that had died in prison. Zaki death on September 10 was preceded by that of Hassan Abdullah Hassan, 63, who died on September 8 after he suffered a heart attack inside Wadi Al-Natroun prison.

A third detainee—Shaaban Fouad—died on September 12 in Shbein Elkoum deportations prison as a result of medical negligence, the ENHR said. “The death of the three prisoners is a natural result of the disastrous conditions inside Egyptian prisons and detention centres, which lack the minimum standards of safety and health care,” Ahmed Attar, a researcher with ENHR, was quoted by Middle East Eye, as saying.

Egypt’s only democratically-elected president, Dr Mohammad Morsi died in court when he suffered a heart attack in June 2019. Instead of providing him immediate medical care, the court and the prosecutor accused him of “faking” his illness. Was anyone held to account for his death by negligence? Perish the thought. The regime wanted him dead anyway: whether he died in prison or inside the courtroom was immaterial.

Since his military coup in 2013, el-Sisi has indulged in gross human rights violation. Rights groups have accused the regime of a deliberate policy of medical negligence, torture and ill-treatment of political prisoners, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of people since 2013. The UN high commissioner for human rights accused the Sisi regime of “arbitrarily killing” Dr Morsi, 67, who was kept in “brutal conditions” in Tora prison.

Egypt under el-Sisi has become a totally lawless state. Any call for respect for basic human rights or mild criticism of the strongman are considered treasonous and result in immediate arrest. Prisoners can languish in pre-trial cells for years before they are brought before the court.

Last month, Egypt’s Strong Party leader Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, in his seventies, included his will in a letter from prison to his family. He had just suffered his fourth heart attack in prison and felt his end was near.

His son Ahmed who has been active in highlighting his father’s plight, wrote on his Facebook: “In a letter my dad wrote his will today and said his health is as it was, praying to God for a good end.”

Addressing his father directly, Ahmed continued: “We did everything to try to stop the injustice you are suffering, the reprisals against you and your murder in cold blood at the hands of people who don’t know what honour is. So, we put our trust in God's hands, the Most Merciful, may He show kindness to you and rescue you.”

Why is Aboul Fotouh in prison? He was arrested in 2018 after calling for a boycott of the presidential elections that he viewed as flawed and unfair. He was held in solitary confinement for more than two years before being presented in court last May.

The court sentenced him to 15 years in a maximum-security prison for “founding a terror organisation” (i.e., a political party!) He suffers from heart disease, advanced prostate disease and kidney and bladder stones but is denied medication. Last January, UN experts expressed grave concern over his poor health and called on the Egyptian regime to provide updated and detailed information about his condition.

The regime responded by saying that there are no political prisoners in Egypt and that it is dealing with “terrorists”. This was music to American ears who immediately rewarded the Sisi regime and approved arms sale worth about $2.5 billion.

More recently, the US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said that “there is no question that Egypt is an indispensable partner” of the United States. Armed with such credentials, Sisi can continue to murder political opponents without any opprobrium!

For doing such a fine job, Sisi rewarded himself with a new jumbo jet worth $500 million for personal use. MbS, eat your heart out!

Article from

Crescent International Vol. 51, No. 8

Rabi' al-Awwal 05, 14442022-10-01

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