Protest Context: The History of Mubarak Abuses

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Egyptian anti-government demonstrators hold their national flag as they gather at Cairo's Tahrir Square on February 10, 2011. (Mohammed Abed/Getty)

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on The Brian Lehrer Show, Lawrence Wright,  staff writer for The New Yorker and Joe Stork, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Middle East and North Africa division, discussed the history of oppression and abuse under the Mubarak regime.

While the army has cultivated a image of neutrality throughout the protests, The Guardian newspaper reported Wednesday that human rights groups have documented the detainment and torture of hundreds of protesters at the hands of the military.

Amid reports that Mubarak will step down today and power will be transferred to Vice President Omar Suleiman, the former top intelligence chief and military officer, Stork was quick to say the public should not assume the army is taking the side of the protesters, despite their claim they are stepping in to "safeguard the country."

Language about protecting the country or even protecting the citizens, when an army is using that language, I wouldn't assume that's in the best interest of citizens.

As the White House said, this is a fluid situation, and no one knows what the repercussions of a transfer of power would be. Though the crowd in Tahrir Square is cheering, Stork said they are likely to be disappointed unless major changes are made in country whose authorities have a culture of torture.

Will the same individuals who have been responsible for the kind of abuses we've seen over the last 30, 40 years be essentially the same people doing the same thing? We don't know. Or will the army be taking on more of a policing role, which it's very ill-equiped to do, both in terms of training, equipment, and so forth. So we're looking at what could be a very messy situation.

Wright noted that Egypt's horrific practices implicate the United States—damaging our credibility as a force for good in the region.

One of the shameful things of our own Egyptian policies is we took advantage of that kind of system to let them interrogate some of these Al Qaida suspects.

Ending police abuse has been a major rallying cry among the protesters. Stork said unless the government adopts a zero tolerance policy to torture, it will continue to afflict the population.

Torture actually spread, it became sort of an epidemic, which is what it is today, I'm sorry to say. It happens in police stations, it happens not just with political dissidents, it happens with people just picked up for suspicion of committing ordinary crimes. This has become a serious and widespread problem.

Human rights defenders like Stork are more concerned that any change at the top would be accompanied by institutional changes like ending the 30-year law that allows the president to arrest anyone who is perceived to threaten the government's security (in practice, this has meant any political opposition groups).

There are things that should happen before Mubarak leaves, such as ending the emergency rule. I think that's more key than whether Mubarak steps out of the picture today, tomorrow, or next week. And I'm afraid this is going to preclude that.

Read more breaking coverage of Egypt»»


Joe Stork and Lawrence Wright


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Comments [6]

Theresa from Brooklyn

The military "stepping in" to "protect citizens"? Uh oh, that is not necessarily a good thing.

AND . . . isn't the military where Mubarak came from in the first place?

Feb. 10 2011 11:23 AM
tom from qns

Why isn't this mentioned: our embrace of Mubarak was necessary to help keep Israel safe -- to secure stabiltiy and keep out Muslim Brotherhood -- a fear that conservatives and their friends continue to promote.

Feb. 10 2011 11:21 AM

eeek! Typo!

Not mention in POLITE society, not police society....

Of course, the typo would make my comment fit right into the kind of society the Egyptian anti-gov't protesters are trying to get away from.

Feb. 10 2011 11:06 AM

What Glen said (and numbering of comments would assist in referring to earlier comments, btw. Just a suggestion. With only two comments --as I began this comment-- it's not a problem, but it becomes a big hurdle when there are many comments. There are ways to reference comments, but I have no idea how much that adds to the cost of allowing comments.)

Also, Brian described Suleiman as an insider, but no mention of his many years as head of Egypt's intel agency, his work with Israel to support the Israeli blockade of Gaza (including, according to The Telegraph's reporting on some of those WikiLeaks US State Dept. cables) seeming to set up the Mavi Marmara to be assaulted in international waters by breaking an agreement to allow the entire flotilla to assemble at an Egyptian port and proceed from there (Israel was part of this agreement, If I read the cable correctly).

There was no mention of Suleiman's role as the CIA's man in Cairo, of his role in overseeing torture and, according to one victim, actually taking part in torturing a US rendered detainee.

Is this being sent down the Memory Hole, as is the wont of the MCM (Mainstream Corporate Media, which does,alas, include the Corporate-supported public broadcasting news), or do MCMers simply not pay attention to facts which don't fit the gov't approved Narrative?Or, is it simply not discussed in police society? Insiders may know, but do not want to bother the public with uncomfortable facts?

It's so frustrating to listen to the "news" and know what's being left out that is actually important!

Feb. 10 2011 11:03 AM

can u do a segment about US tax dollars to egypt.
specifically when is our next check being sent out to them. i'd like to see a suspension of payments until we know who the next leader is going to be over there.

Feb. 10 2011 09:54 AM

I was wondering how a wikileaks junkie like Brian missed 2 important wiki stories.
1. US diplomats wrote that Israeli soldiers shaking down convoys to Gaza taking $3000.00 per
2. VP Suliman of Egypt is the choice for president favored by Israel. These were in the cables posted by The Telegraph.
I remember Brian being all over Tanzanian, Turkish, Bangladeshi quid pro quo requests.
But maybe he missed those wiki cables.

Feb. 10 2011 08:57 AM

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