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The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights

No way out
Fears of a new stage of social violence

Saturday, 12 September

Today, 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

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

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