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"Democracy" in Egypt
Egyptian Military Tortures, Abuses Teenage Prisoners

The Egyptian military is doing what it does best: viciously cracking down on suspected supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood. A growing number of released Egyptian prisoners—many of them teenagers—are reporting experiencing torture, sexual abuse, and other atrocities during their imprisonment. Here’s one case from the BBC report on the trend:

[15-year old Ahmed Abdel Fattah] was using the phone to film an Islamist protest near his home in Sharqiya Province, north of Cairo.

“I was curious,” he said. “Why shouldn’t I film something that I see every night on TV?”

When some local thugs tried to steal the phone he refused to hand it over, so they handed him over to the police.

“They electrocuted me in sensitive places like my spine, here and here on my arms, and in sensitive areas like between my legs,” he said, gesturing to the areas.

“And when they electrocuted me I used to fall down on the ground, and I could not stand up. At the same time they were beating me. And sometimes they would throw water to increase the voltage.”

Ruthless crackdowns on Muslim Brotherhood have been happening periodically since the 1950s. Accusations of torture and brutality have been coming out of Egypt’s prisons for just as long. By using violence and repression, the military has intended to frighten individual Islamists and tame the Muslim Brotherhood movement as a whole.

Repression isn’t the whole story, though. Violence and tolerance are cyclical in Egypt. Between these waves of mass arrests and shocking abuse, the authorities in turn permit the emergence of a tame and housebroken opposition, while continuing to adopt symbolic elements of Islamist policies into the ruling party program. At some point the current bout of repression will likely yield to a new era of mild and cautious tolerance. Some in the west will then mistake that as real liberalization and start nattering again about Egypt’s purported democratization.

But neither the repression nor tolerance have tended to last forever in contemporary Egypt. The Nile rolls on as it has done from time immemorial. So, for now, does Egypt’s political system.

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  • Andrew Allison

    At the risk of arousing the ire of my fellow-commentators, I fell impelled to ask: had the authoritarian Supreme Council of the Armed Forces not relinquished power on 30 June 2012 upon the start of Mohamed Morsi’s term as President, would the excuse (the current protests) for the humanitarian abuses have been present? Just asking.

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