Security crackdown in Egypt’s green oasis

A joint new study issued by the Cairo-based Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) and the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) claims security forces in the Egyptian city of Fayyoum are viciously clamping down on outspoken bloggers and students in the area. MENASSAT looks at the report.
Egypt Students detained for "Gaza Victory"
Carlos Latuff 2008

CAIRO, August 25, 2009 (MENASSAT) —The desert oasis of Fayyoum, located approximately 100 kilometers from Cairo, is perhaps best known for its postcard-like beauty. Here, tourists flock to witness the desert beauty of Pharaoh’s land, eat organic food in the area’s neat eco-village, and visit pottery factories and edgy art galleries in the artist town Tunis.

But a new disturbing report published by ANHRI and AFTE on the continuous security clampdowns in the area, portrays a darker side of Fayyoum than its pretty post-card image. 

“Fayyoum,” say ANHRI and AFTE, is suffering from the “iron grip of the security services whose officers are running wild, violating all rights and laws.”

With mass media not showing enough interest in reporting on the violations that are being committed, combined with the inhabitants’ fear to speak out, Fayyoum has become “a city of silence,” argues the study ––entitled “Behind The Walls of Fear––Fayoum Under Siege,” released in August.

It is based on research conducted by the organizations into alleged intimidation, harassment, and arrests of bloggers, university students, media workers, and professors in the area over the past year. 

While harassment and intimidation of Fayyoum residents by the security services are rather commonplace, as the report implies, the security forces have tightened their grip on the city in recent time, becoming increasingly harsh towards those perceived as “dissidents.” 

And the Egyptian authorities, ANHRI and AFTE allege, let the violations in Fayyoum continue undisturbed.

“The continued domination of the police forces, affiliated with the Ministry of Interior, in the Egyptian universities has gone beyond all limits and gave a green light to the officers to go quite wild with students to the degree of arresting, bullying detaining and assaulting them inside the university, at the hands of gangsters affiliated to the State Security,” said the organizations in a recent press statement.

Many University students from the area have fallen prey to the security services in recent months. Several of those who were subjected to harassment or questioned by the security services early in the spring had in one way or another demonstrated some kind of public support for Gaza or disapproval of Egypt’s handling of the war, during Israeli’s December 2008 and January 2009 military offensive on the Strip.

Egypt came under harsh criticism by many during Israel’s war on Gaza for keeping its Rafah border with the Strip closed throughout most of the offensive. The closure of the gate delayed aid transports and the entry of doctors and relief workers into Gaza.

The Arabic Studies College of Fayyoum, for example, proceeded in late March this year to prosecute six of its students for “contributing” to “Gaza Victory,” the Gaza solidarity festival at the university, claims the report.

The dean of Fayyoum’s agriculture college, Samir Ahmed Saif, is to have temporarily expelled nine students after they were questioned more than a dozen times about the organization of the festival and the distribution of a flyer entitled, "Let's reconstruct Gaza."

They were also accused of “introducing festival decoration and sound gear into the university premises without permission.”

Bloggers and activists showing strong support for Gaza or denouncing Egypt’s policies against Gaza were also targeted.

Mohamed Khairy and Khalifa Ebeid, moderators of the blogs “Garr Shakal” and “Ana Mat'houn,” respectively, were detained on October 22, 2008 for partaking in the so-called "break the siege of Gaza" caravan and for their critical blog writings.

They were supposedly put in detention for fifteen days in Fayyoum prison where they were served one meal per day and were granted no visits. Khairy was re-arrested ten days after his release and ended up being detained for another 70 days.

Numerous other bloggers have been questioned or detained in Fayyoum in recent time, several of them on vague charges.

In another incident at the university, university guards and 200 “bullies” are to have beaten up a number of students at the Education College with clubs and iron chains, as they were preparing for their graduation party on campus. Several of the students suffered broken legs and jaws.

A recent letter from the Solidarity Ministry in Fayyoum addressed to the head of the staff union at Fayyoum University also shows how the security services meddle in the affairs of the faculty at the university.

In his correspondence, Undersecretary Mahmoud Ibrahim Al Shazley at the  Solidarity Ministry instructed the staff union leader to eliminate eight professors from the union's list of elections nominees.

“According to a written request form state security, the correspondence reads as follows: ‘We are pleased to inform you that we received the security letter # 1875/ 2008 on 10/11/2008 in response to our letter #2702 /2008 on 2/11/2008 seeking opinions about the nominees to the elections of the board…. We approve of all nominees except the below listed,” read the letter according to ANHRI.

“The above listed have no chance of being nominated,” ended Al-Shazley’s communiqué. “Please take all necessary actions on this issue.”

The report makes particular reference to Fayyoum-based state security officer  Hisham Fahim–– a well-connected man the organizations allege has continuously “misused his authorities.”

“Since Hisham was assigned to Fayyoum state security in the mid-nineties, he went far beyond [red] lines and misused his authority, backed by his father, an MP of Beni Soueif,” read the report.

An entire section of the report is dedicated to allegations by Fayyoum residents of torture, kidnappings, and abuse at the hands of Hisham Fahim.

ANHRI and AFTE express deep concern over the situation in Fayyoum and are calling on Egypt’s Minister of Interior to investigate the incidents and state security officers listed in the report. The organizations urge the ministry to order state security in Fayyoum to “stop violating human rights.”