Your Tax Dollars Are Enabling Police Brutality in Egypt


(Aschevogel / Flickr)

Ever since the Black Lives Matter movement exploded into the headlines, violence by American police officers has come under fire from activists and ordinary citizens alike. Less discussed, however, is how the U.S. government winks at the police brutality of its client states abroad.

The military government in Egypt, for example, is cracking down hard on its restive citizenry — harder than any time in memory. And the United States, which sends the country over a $1 billion a year in security aid, is looking the other way.

The cops on the beat in Egyptian cities are a menace. They demand bribes from motorists on any pretense and mete out lethal violence on a whim.

On February 18, a Cairo policeman shot 24-year-old Muhammad Sayed in the head because the youth asked him for a few extra dollars to do the cop a favor. The policeman is facing murder charges. But, as in the United States, it’s common for Egyptian courts to acquit officers or send them away with a slap on the wrist.

Beatings and other abuses are rampant at the country’s police stations.

Last month, according to the heroic El-Nadeem Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, a Cairo-based group, there were eight deaths in police custody — and almost 80 cases of torture. The group estimates that nearly 500 Egyptians died in police custody last year, and over 600 were tortured.

Even worse are the plainclothes agents of the Interior Ministry, who operate with near total impunity against perceived political dissidents. When these secret police take people away, Egyptians say they’ve gone “behind the sun.” No one knows where the detainees are, and anyone who looks for them too long will go blind.

Those Interior Ministry goons are the leading suspects in the torture and murder of Giulio Regeni. The Italian graduate student was found dead on a desert roadside, his body bearing cigarette burns and other signs of repeated torture, in early February. He’d been missing for 10 days.

Because he was from Europe, Regeni’s case got a lot of media attention. But it’s grimly ordinary for Egyptians to disappear and die under similar circumstances.

Egyptians don’t take these outrages lying down. Students at the American University in Cairo, where Regeni was a visiting scholar, hung banners in protest. Thousands more surrounded a police station to demand justice for Muhammad Sayed.

Most famously, five years ago young protesters chose January 25 — designated by the government as Police Day — to start the enormous popular uprising that forced the octogenarian dictator Hosni Mubarak to step down. For a time after the 2011 revolt, the hated police disappeared from the streets, and neighborhood watches sprang up in towns and villages across Egypt.

But as the authoritarian state reasserted itself, so did the most appalling tactics of repression. Police torture, in particular, has become more frequent and more severe. El-Nadeem Center director Aida Seif al-Dawla calls it “a beast that took a break and came back in full force to take revenge.”

This makes it pretty odd timing for the United States to remove all the remaining human rights conditions on the $1.3 billion aid package it sends annually to its cherished ally on the Nile. But that’s exactly what the Obama administration is asking Congress to do.

Secretary of State John Kerry says human rights concerns in Egypt are outweighed by Washington’s “huge interests” there — among them a counterterrorism partnership, a strong state in a region roiled by civil war, the Suez Canal, and Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel.

These are the same arguments for “stability” that U.S. administrations of both parties have made for decades. The Egyptian regime gets the message, and so do the Egyptian people: Washington doesn’t care, ultimately, if the police state is unleashed.

The United States is in no position to lecture other countries about police brutality. But the Obama administration’s stance toward Egypt effectively condones it.

Chris Toensing is editor of Middle East Report, published by the Middle East Research and Information Project in Washington, DC.

  • Cairolive

    This article is redundant and Chris should have known better that the US aid to Egypt is linked with the Peace treaty with Israel an has nothing to do with human rights! However I do think that he knows better and that his agenda may be sponsored by enemies of Egypt.

    • Ehab
      U should have some official postion in the egyption authoritarian regime if u r not! You are distributing accusions exactly as egyption judges do when they play cards and gave life prison for 4 old boy for killing people and attacking security forces! ..why he should be enemy of egypt if he is taking about egyption forces killing some egyption people? And what do u mean by egypt the authoritarian regime or the people? Egypt does not need enemies, I think there is enough inside hatred to make it on verge of collapse

      • Cairolive

        First of all Ehab, you need to know how to write your nationality! It’s Egyptian with an “A” and NOT Egyption with an “O”! Think, why would a “non-Egyptian write such a factually wrong article, when knowing it is wrong unless he has an agenda or is being paid to do so to damage Egypt’s reputation! Egyptian judges are presented with facts and then they rule. There are tens of millions of Egyptians who never see a judge in their life. The ones you mention must have done something or where in the wrong place. The 4 years old boy was a mistake and you know well that ALL newspapers printed the government admitting it was a mistake due to similar names. Ehab, I don’t understand part of what you wrote about the regime or the people, I didn’t mention any. Last but not least, I have no hatred and I hope you too…and though many are hopeful, Egypt will not collapse.

        • Ehab

          u were referring that the writer is not telling the truth about relations between US aid and human rights and i reply with a link about this well known news, you will not say sorry for this?..secondly, you have accused the writer that he has agenda just because he is writing about human rights violations? you do not know that the interior minister has admitted that there are violations but he say it is only single accidents while other human right groups in Egypt and outside and media assure that old regime turned back to more brutal and aggressive one. you as “egyptian” mastering its spelling should be care a bout the innocent Egyptians rather than caring about defending an inhuman regime in name of egypt. Nobody has excuse even if he is pretending that these violation does not exsist or single accidents, it is in very large scale. sure if you did not feel the air of fear that spread all over egypt this will be only bcause you r cleaing the dirty face of the regime. sure you have friends or friends of friends that have been harmed by this injustice or at least feels fear to express there opinions or show it public.myself i know 3 students in my work in a privite unviersity were killed by police forces during demonstrations and a fourth one was killed in my home town. and i know a lot of my friends do not criticize the regime in puplic becuase the fear the consequences.

          • Cairolive

            The link doesn’t matter. You need to go back and read the Camp David Peace agreement not a CNN link. I also find no reason to say sorry. It is very sad that students where killed during demonstrations, but you have to understand that you go to university to study and study only and not for demonstrations. Seeing how you write, you must belong on an Islamist group or the Muslim Brotherhood. If that is true, my advise to you is to stop it and look to build your future through hard work, Good luck in life.

        • Ehab

          Why Almost No One Believes Egypt’s Security Services!!
          here is another reporter but with larger agenda!!

  • Kawsar Elshinaw

    The AIDS go to the army, not the police, in Egypt. The reporter has another reason for this report. Get your hands of Egypt.

  • Kawsar Elshinaw

    You really know what’s behind his words.

  • DrMHS

    Police brutality in the US has been making major headlines. Go to YouTube, there are many extensive recorded video documentations. Have you been sleeping?

    Fight corruption where you are first and stop being nosy.

  • Aer O’Head

    Small change compared to Israel-Palestine. But that’s probably where they’re learning this.