The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights
No way out …
Saturday, 12 SeptemberToday, Saturday 12 September 1998, the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) issues its first report on the spontaneous outbursts of social violence that took place in Egypt in 1998. The report, issued under the title "No way out … Fears of new social violence", deals with an increasing phenomenon in recent days, ie. the "spontaneous" incidents of violence that erupts when people feel helpless and hopeless as a result of having all avenues blocked and all doors shut for the fulfillment of their legitimate needs. The report reviews the major acts of spontaneous violence that took place in Egyptian villages and cities in 1998. It contains three parts in addition to the introduction and conclusion. The introduction reviews the reasons and dimensions of this phenomenon from the social and legal perspectives. It points out that spontaneous eruptions of violence are mainly an outcome of clear defficiencies in the social and legal structures. On the social level, the phenomenon relates to poor sectors of society who find no way to fulfil their legitimate needs and who are exposed to administrative and security violence when they try to realize their interests or demand their rights. Spontaneous social violence is a form of reaction when there is no future. On the legal level, the introduction reviews three legal and security factors which not only constitute gross human rights violations but are also direct reasons for the outburst of social violence. These are the torture and ill-treatment of citizens in police stations, the Egyptian law regulating the right to assembly, which is a serious aggression on legitimacy and human rights, and the excessive use of power by the security forces to disperse peaceful demonstrations, which is a crime that goes unpunished. The three main parts of the report, which is based on information received by the EOHR through fact-finding missions and eyewitnesses' accounts, are as follows: First: Water pollution. This part reviews the acts of violence that took place on 25 July 1998 in Damarouh village, Kafr Al-Sheikh governorate, as a result of the lack of clean drinking water supply. Second: Demolition orders. It deals with the events that took place in the Fawakhreyya area in Cairo (an area of pottery workshops); in Al-Korna, Luxor; and in Al-Geraya, Sharkeyya. During 1998, these areas witnessed fierce clashes between residents and police because of the arbitrary application of administrative orders to demolish some buildings. Third: Security practices. It reviews the incidents of violence occurred between residents and police in Belkas town, Dakahleyya, and Al-Hamoul, Kafr Al-Sheikh, following the death of two citizens in police stations. The report concludes that this type of social violence is characterized by the following: First: The perpetrators are simple farmers, low-skilled workers, poor inhabitants of the cities, or low-rank civil servants. Second: The acts of violence take place as a reaction to blatant violations and provocative actions by members of the security forces or the administration. They are never initiated by the people, who are often far from being violent. In all the cases monitored by the EOHR, the people involved were simple and poor people whose main concern is how to obtain their daily sustenance. Third: Violence seems to be the last resort when all ways to express wishes and demands are closed. Fourth: The reaction of the security forces, who make intensive use of fire weapons and tear gases and then conduct wide random arrests, is always more violent and disproportionate to the incidents. Fifth: There is a double standard in the way the authority deals with these events. It punishes and brings charges against those it accuses of provoking the violence, although the most they do is to throw stones to demand or defend their lost rights or in their own defense. At the same time, it gives policemen the right to use fire weapons and tear gases against people, killing and injuring them, intimidating the old and the young, arresting any person at random. All these practices take place without any condemnation or punishment. Six: Showing some respect for and care about people's interests would have been enough to avoid violent acts. If the concerned authorities had extended the supply of drinking water to the village of Damarouh, certainly violence would not have taken place. The authorities' respect of the right of the people of Al-Fawakhreyya and Al-Korna to housing would have led to the respect of the citizens' of those villages for the executive and the state. Similarly, if the police had respected the citizens of Belkas and Al-Hamoul and had not violated their dignity, or if the responsible officers had been subjected to interrogations and brought to justice, these two cities would not have witnessed acts of violence. Only simple and legitimate solutions would prevent the occurrence of violence or social unrest. The EOHR issues this report to draw the attention of the state and civil society institutions to the grave phenomenon of social violence, which has been neglected in a background of ongoing violence between armed Islamic militias and the security forces. The organization hopes the report will spur civil society institutions to exert their utmost efforts to amend the current legal system in conformity with the Constitution and international instruments ratified by the Egyptian Government, and to realizate all human rights and basic freedoms, whether of an economic nature, such as the right to health, housing, association, peaceful strike, etc., or civil and political such as the right to freedom and personal safety, and political participation.
Other EOHR Press Releases
EOHR || Human Rights in Egypt