Egyptian armed forces challenged over their real role in revolution

By staff writers
8 Apr 2011

A new report has challenged the perception that the Egyptian military played a positive role in the country's revolution earlier this year. The report, by Egyptian activist Maikel Nabil Sanad, has been publicised by War Resisters International (WRI), a global network of pacifist and antimilitarist organisations.

Sanad was an active participant in the revolution, campaigning alongside many others in Tahrir Square. He insists that the Egyptian army did not at any point side with the protesters.

The report states that the army supplied live ammunition to police attempting to suppress the demonstrations and were involved in the arrest, detention and even torture of protesters both before and after the departure of Mubarak.

Sanad argues that the military are still seeking by various means to suppress or limit the scope of the revolution. Many people are continuing to protest, calling for a civilian council instead of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

Following the report's publication, its author was arrested by military police at his home in Cairo. Sanad been charged with "insulting the military institution". Human rights groups have called for his release.

Incidents highlighted by the report include state violence on 28 January, when the police used tear gas, smoke bombs and rubber and live bullets to attack the tens of thousands of demonstrators who had occupied Tahrir Square. Military jeeps moved through the crowds to supply police with ammunition when they ran out, resulting in protesters setting fire to two army jeeps and capturing four tanks.

The armed forces then sought to change tactics. Officers started speaking to the demonstrators, calming them and pacifying them.

But Sanad argues that this new phase was based on managing the conflict through indirect mechanisms such as blocking protesters and preventing them from leaving Tahrir Square - a tactic known as "kettling" in Britain. In contrast, at other points, they tried to remove the protesters from the square against their will.

Sanad accuses the Egyptian military at this time of "adopting a stance of passive neutrality whilst continuing to support the police and Mubarak thugs".

The army issued many statements proclaiming it would protect the protestors, but then appeared simply to stand by in the days after 1 February, when the protesters were attacked by Mubarak supporters.

The report reiterates accusations, which have now become common, that the armed forces continued to arrest, abuse and torture demonstrators at this time. They also raided the offices of human rights organisations. Several anti-Mubarak bloggers were arrested. Sanad lists testimonies of ill treatment during detention, including torture and sexual abuse. It cites further evidence from Amnesty International and from a British investigative journalist.

After the departure of Mubarak, the army used the media to convey the message that it had joined the revolution. Sanad argues that the army were in fact doing everything to ensure the revolution's suppression, or at least hindering its progress. His examples include a ban on photography in Tahrir Square, manipulation and control of the media and further violent attempts to clear the square.

The armed forces continue to enforce a curfew and refuse to end the state of emergency.

Sanad's report concludes that although the army claim to have joined the revolution, they constantly try to circumvent its demands and could exercise an undue influence on the provisions of the new constitution.

[Ekk/1]

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