Robert Fisk: Police state is the wrong venue for Obama's speech

Share
Related Topics

Maybe Barack Obama chose Egypt for his "great message" to Muslims tomorrow because it contains a quarter of the world's Arab population, but he is also coming to one of the region's most repressed, undemocratic and ruthless police states. Egyptian human rights groups – when they are not themselves being harassed or closed down by the authorities – have recorded a breathtaking list of police torture, extra-judicial killings, political imprisonments and state-sanctioned assaults on opposition figures that continues to this day.

The sad truth is that so far did the US descend in moral power under George W Bush that Obama would probably have to deliver his lecture in the occupied West Bank, even Gaza, to change the deep resentment and fury that has built up among Muslims over the past eight years. This, of course, Obama will not do. So Egypt, sadly, it has to be, though he will see nothing of the squalor and fear in which Egyptians live.

Only a week ago, for example, the leader of the opposition Ghad party, Ayman Nour – only released from prison by President Hosni Mubarak's regime in February – complained that he was assaulted in a Cairo street by a man with a make-shift flamethrower, suffering first degree burns to his face. Mr Nour spent three years in jail and is outraged by Obama's visit. "It seems to have been intended to bolster the power of the regimes, not of the people," he said. "We are absolutely astonished that our Egyptian political and civil society are ignored. It gives the impression that American interests are more important than American principles." The investigations of human rights groups show Mr Nour has every reason to be angry.

The latest Cairo Institute for Human Rights (CIHR) report on government abuses in the Arab world is packed with examples of state brutality, including 29 cases of torture and ill-treatment in Egyptian police stations in just six months. The Egyptian Organisation of Human Rights, a separate group, discovered that 10 of the 29 died after torture. In one case, rights groups acquired a videotape of a prisoner being anally raped with a stick by a police officer. Other videos show one of Mubarak's political opponents – a woman – being sexually molested by a plain-clothes police officer in a Cairo street. In 2007 alone, the Egyptian syndicate of journalists reported that 1,000 journalists were summoned to appear before government investigative officials.

A prominent case, the CIHR said, was that of Ibrahim Eissa, editor of Al-Dastour newspaper, who received two months in prison for allegedly publishing "false news" about Mubarak's health, thus "undermining public security". Interestingly, Egyptian state television no longer shows news film of Mubarak climbing aircraft steps or conference podiums; Egyptians, of course, wonder why. When Sa'ad eddin Ibrahim, of the Ibn Khaldun Centre for Development Studies, called upon the US to make its billions of dollars of aid to Egypt provisional upon the country's progress in democratic reform, he was condemned in absentia to two years' hard labour. Several bloggers were detained for calling for a public strike on Mubarak's 80th birthday last year. Al-Jazeera's Howeida Taha was fined 16 months ago for "damaging Egypt's reputation" by shooting a film on torture in police stations.

Human rights workers have been physically assaulted as well as arrested. When Dr Magda Adly, of the Al-Nadeem Centre for the rehabilitation of torture victims, left a police station in Kafr el-Dawa after interviewing four detainees who said they had been tortured, she was knocked unconscious and her arm was broken.

Why does Mubarak allow these obscenities to continue? Does he truly believe the extraordinary presidential election figures – he won the 1999 poll with 93.79 per cent, and an earlier 1993 election with 96.3 per cent – or, in his 81st year, is he afraid of his political opponents, however powerless they may be? Will he discuss all this with Obama? It is unlikely.

In fairness, the CIHR also records a series of shameful attacks on journalists by so-called Islamic courts leading, inevitably, to fines. It also recounts a vast litany of torture and executions by other Arab regimes from Tunisia to Syria, including the occupied West Bank and Gaza. So perhaps Obama should stay clear of the lot.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron faces the press as he arrives in Brussels for the EU leaders summit on Thursday reuters  

On the Tusk of a dilemma: Cameron's latest EU renegotiation foe

Andrew Grice
John Profumo and his wife Valerie Robson in 1959  

Stephen Ward’s trial was disgraceful. There can be no justification for it

Geoffrey Robertson QC
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas