The Laws of Rule


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Accountability and Crackdown in the Streets of Cairo

Feb 4, 2011

Even as the new Egyptian Prime Minister, Ahmed Shafik, was apologizing to the country yesterday for the violence in and around Cairo’s Tahrir Square, Egyptian and foreign journalists, lawyers and human rights activists were being rounded up and detained by the security services elsewhere in Cairo.

The Prime Minister told reporters that it was unclear who or what was behind the attacks on the democracy demonstrators. But on the same day, the Hisham Mubarak Law Center and The Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights were raided by a combined force of security forces and “thugs”. About 30 human rights activists and lawyers were detained and taken away, including Egyptian lawyers and field workers for Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Computer and paper records relating to over 700 cases were confiscated. “Lawyers at the HMLC are among those in Egypt who worked tirelessly for years to defend the rights of victims of human rights violations. They have been supporting detainees held without charge or trial under the emergency law – in place since Mubarak came to power some 30 years ago – as well as union activists, workers and others, detained for expressing their views and demanding their rights” said an AI field worker reporting first hand after the incident. Their whereabouts remain unknown but Human Rights Watch reports today that it is thought they are being held by the military police at Camp 75, a military camp located in Manshiyet el-Bakri, a neighborhood on the outskirts of Cairo.

Prime Minister Shafik promised an investigation into the violence on Wednesday, which sounded like a job for an indepedent judicial inquiry. But is the judiciary as split as the rest of the country? Having fought a struggle for independence between 2004 and 2006 were the benches purged of those judges who might be inclined to ensure the rule of law and replaced by those dedicated to perpetuating Egypt’s law of rule? Some judges are self-declared supporters of the democracy movement and have been included in the committee established over the weekend to coordinate the opposition to Mubarak (one report suggested the committee included at least one judge of the Court of Cassation, Egypt’s highest non-constitutional court).

Sharif al-Musa, Professor at Georgetown University, told Al Jazeera that any inquiry into the violence would be unprecedented. “The Egyptian state has no mechanism to investigate itself”, he said. That didn’t stop democracy activists in Tahrir square from pursuing their own investigations. The photo above is only one of the many of ID cards confiscated from members of the security forces or ruling NDP political party who tried to enter the square during the clashes on Wednesday (the one above is an NDP card).

LoR plans coverage on the legal angle of the Egypt story as it evolves. Watch this space. Updates welcome.

Photo omarroberthamilton