TIME Egypt

Egypt’s Rights Groups View Report on CIA Torture With Weary Familiarity

It's a reminder of Egypt's past as a home for "outsourced" torture — and its present regime's alleged use of the same kinds of practices

For rights advocates in Egypt, the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee report released Tuesday detailing years of CIA torture was a reminder not only of the country’s past role as a destination for “outsourcing” U.S. torture, but also of a present reality in which Egypt’s security forces continue to use brutal methods on detainees.

Egypt was a key destination under the CIA’s “rendition” program in which the U.S. transferred prisoners to other countries for interrogation. For years the CIA cooperated with the regime of President Hosni Mubarak, including the Egyptian security agencies whose widespread use of torture was one of the hallmarks of the authoritarian state.

In the eyes of human rights activists, the legacy of the CIA’s collaboration with the Egyptian state lives on in widespread accounts of security force abuses. “Today we see more cases of enforced disappearances involving the Military Intelligence and the National Security. These are practices that existed in Egypt before and were used in the extraordinary rendition program,” said Mohamed Lotfy, the executive director of the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms. “This mistake shouldn’t be repeated.”

The 500-PAGE executive summary report released by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on Tuesday redacts the names of the partner countries involved in rendition and torture, but those countries involved have long been publicly identified. The U.S. began rendering people suspected of involvement in terrorism to Egypt in 1995 under President Bill Clinton. According to a 2013 report by the Open Society Foundations, Egypt accepted a U.S. request to join the program in part because it wanted access to suspected members of Al Qaeda.

Rendition expanded massively following the September 11, 2001 attacks. In 2005, Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif admitted that “60 to 70” people had been rendered to Egypt, out of an estimated total of 100 to 150. The CIA also sent detainees to Muammar Qaddafi’s Libya and Bashar Al-Assad’s Syria, all autocratic regimes with long records of torture. All three countries would be shaken by popular uprisings in the “Arab Spring” of 2011.

Egypt was the destination for some of the most high-profile cases of extraordinary rendition, according to the Open Society Foundations report. Detainees included Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, known as Abu Omar, an Egyptian who had been living in Italy. Abu Omar was picked up on a street in Milan in 2003, then flown to Ramstein airbase in Germany, then to Egypt, where he was detained secretly for 14 months and subjected to electric shocks.

In another instance detailed by the Open Society Foundations report, an Australian citizen named Mamdouh Habib was captured in Pakistan, questioned by U.S. and Australian agents, then rendered to Egypt where he was tortured. In another instance, a pair of Egyptian men seeking asylum in Sweden, Muhammed al-Zery and Ahmed Agiza, were handed to the CIA then flown back to Egypt. In Agiza’s case, CIA agents “stripped him, dressed him in overalls, and chained and shackled him,” according to the report. The Egyptian government had assured Sweden that the two would not be tortured, but both were submitted to electric shocks.

Hosni Mubarak was removed from power in the 2011 revolt that was in part fueled by public outrage at the abuses of the security forces. But the massive police apparatus he oversaw remained intact, and the regime figures and security officials responsible for the use of torture stayed in place. Torture of detainees continued after Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi was elected in 2012, human rights groups say, and after the military deposed Morsi in July 2013.

(Egyptian government officials dispute claims of torture. Though the Interior Ministry has in recent years admitted some violations, it asserts that it holds offending officers accountable and also said it was training police in human rights principles.)

Throughout, opponents of the Egyptian regime expressed dismay at the U.S. role in cooperating with the Egyptian security forces. “Mubarak used the security agencies to continue his rule,” said Mohsen Bahnasy, a human rights lawyer specializing in cases of torture said, “The United States unfortunately did not take a stance against the Egyptian government’s use of torture. The U.S. used Egypt as a bridge,” he said, “sending prisoners to be tortured here before moving them elsewhere.”

The Senate Intelligence Committee report argues that the CIA’s rendition program undermined efforts to compel other countries to change their treatment of detainees. It describes an incident in 2004 when the U.S. Secretary of State ordered the ambassador to an unidentified country to urge that country open its prisons to the International Committee of the Red Cross. At the time, the report states, the country whose name is redacted “was holding detainees being held in secret at the CIA’s behest.”

Since the military takeover in Egypt, an estimated 40,000 people have been detained in a clampdown on opponents of the regime, according to a database maintained by WikiThawra, an initiative of the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights. Former detainees describe beatings, burns, and electric shocks. Amnesty International, Egyptian human rights rights groups, and journalists have also documented the forced disappearance of dozens of civilians held at Al-Azouly detention center in the Galaa military base near the city of Ismailia. The government refuses to acknowledge the facility.

“The CIA and the Egyptian intelligence were cooperating at a time when the Mubarak government was hated and the people revolted against it,” says Lotfy. “The foreign policy of the U.S. has to keep in mind that the stability they want to reach by fighting terrorism in this way is a false stability.”

TIME portfolio

The Best Pictures of the Week: Nov. 28 – Dec. 5.

From ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s acquittal to protests over Eric Garner’s chokehold death verdict and the launch of NASA’s unmanned exploration spacecraft Orion to the White House’s Christmas decorations, TIME presents the best pictures of the week.

TIME Egypt

Egyptian Court Sentences 188 People to Death

The 188 were charged over the killing of 11 policemen last year in Kerdasa

(CAIRO)— An Egyptian court sentenced 188 people to death Tuesday pending the opinion of the country’s top religious authority, the latest mass death sentence handed down by the country’s judicial system despite widespread international criticism.

The 188 were charged over the killing of 11 policemen last year in Kerdasa, a restive town west of Cairo considered a militant stronghold. The attack, which saw the policemen’s bodies mutilated, is considered one of the country’s grisliest assaults on security forces.

The defendants also were accused of attempting to kill 10 more policemen, damaging a police station, setting police cars on fire and possessing heavy weapons.

The attack happened on the same day that security forces brutally cleared two protest camps of ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi’s supporters, killing hundreds. Protesters were demanding the reinstatement of Morsi, who hails from the Muslim Brotherhood group.

Some 22,000 people have been arrested since Morsi’s ouster, including most of the Brotherhood’s top leaders, as well as large numbers of others swept up by police during pro-Morsi protests.

Tuesday’s sentence requires the opinion of Egypt’s top religious authority, the Grand Mufti. The court is scheduled to issue a final verdict Jan. 24. Defendants then can appeal.

Security officials said 143 of the 188 defendants are in custody. Those not held will receive automatic retrials under Egyptian law. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to journalists.

Egypt has been sharply criticized for recent mass death sentences largely targeting Islamists. Earlier this year, a judge in the southern city of Minya sentenced more than 1,200 people to death in two mass trials. The number of death sentences, initially the most in recent memory anywhere in the world, was later reduced to some 200. Those cases also involve attacks on police stations and the killing of police officers following the dispersal of the protest camps.

TIME Egypt

Sinai Insurgency Shows Signs of Spreading after ISIS-Linked Militants Say They Killed U.S. Engineer

Egyptian armed group claims it killed William Henderson who disappeared in August

The claim this weekend by an Egyptian armed group linked to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) that it had killed an American oil worker has brought renewed international attention to a long-running insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula and raised concerns that the Sinai jihadis might increasingly seek targets outside of their narrow focus on the Egyptian military and security forces.

The group, calling itself the Sinai Province of Islamic State, published an image on Twitter on Sunday of a passport and two identification cards belonging to William Henderson, a 58-year-old employee of the Apache Corporation and Qarun Petroluem Co. A man by the same name, a petroleum expert working in Egypt’s Western Desert, reportedly died in August.

Henderson was the victim of a “tragic carjacking incident this past August” which is “still under investigation by the U.S. government,” according to Apache spokesperson Castlen Kennedy. The Enid News & Eagle in northwestern Oklahoma published an obituary for Henderson in August saying he had “passed suddenly.” The U.S. Embassy in Cairo declined to comment.

The militants’ claim highlights the bloody nature of the confrontation between the Egyptian military and armed groups in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Egypt’s military and police have been the targets of a surge in attacks since the 2011 uprising that forced out Hosni Mubarak and loosened the central government’s grip on Sinai. The attacks accelerated dramatically following the military’s ouster of elected Islamist President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013.

Until last month, when it pledged allegiance to ISIS in an online video, the self-proclaimed Sinai Province was known as Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis (ABM), or Partisans of the Holy House, a religious reference to the city of Jerusalem. The group first made itself known in 2011 when the uprising against Mubarak routed the police in Sinai. The new name is misleading since, unlike ISIS in Iraq and Syria, the group controls no territory in Egypt.

The group soon became Egypt’s deadliest insurgent group, striking in Sinai, Cairo, and the Nile Delta. It’s attacks include multiple attacks on a pipeline through Sinai carrying natural gas to Israel, and the assassination in Cairo of a top Interior Ministry official, and several deadly bombings of police installations. Over nearly four years, the insurgency has killed hundreds of army conscripts and police.

The insurgents’ campaign reached another turning point on Oct. 24 of this year when armed men carried out a car bombing and subsequent ground attack that left 31 Egyptian soldiers dead near the north Sinai town of Sheikh Zuweid.

Egyptian authorities responded to the attack with overwhelming force, using bulldozers and dynamite to destroy entire neighborhoods in the nearby town of Rafah, which straddles Egypt’s border with the Gaza Strip. In creating a “buffer zone” along the border, the government hoped to limit the smuggling of weapons and people in and out of Gaza.

The demolitions and the resulting displacement of thousands of people were a sign of the government’s desperation, said Mokhtar Awad, a research associate at the Center for American Progress who tracks the Sinai insurgency. “What we’ve seen the military doing is the number one non-counterinsurgency step, which is effectively alienating the population almost by design,” he says. “They resorted to the equivalent of plan F: ‘We’ll just blow everything up.’”

Long before the last month’s campaign in Rafah, the government’s harsh measures in north Sinai are one of a confluence of political factors that form the context for Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis’ rise. Since Israel handed the Sinai back to Egypt following the 1979 Camp David Accords, the Egyptian state has marginalized the peninsula’s residents, stoking resentment by barring them from serving in the security forces and sidelining many from the formal economy.

The militants have also been bolstered by the radicalization fostered by the civil war in Syria. Court documents from the trial of a group of ABM members, obtained this year by the Egyptian news website Mada Masr, describe how one group of young men from Cairo joined the group after fighting with jihadis in Syria.

The Egyptian military has banned virtually all international media from north Sinai for months, rendering impossible any direct reporting on the conflict there. Any contact with the group could also be dangerous. The resulting information blackout makes it difficult to predict what effect Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis’ declaration of allegiance to ISIS will have on the dynamics of the insurgency and counterinsurgency.

Some observers speculate that the new alliance will push the Sinai jihadis to broaden their search for targets, as they look beyond the Egyptian military. Henderson’s death could fit that pattern. “We will likely see more outside-Sinai terrorist operations without any kind of immediate strategic gains just to prove that they are there and to cause as much havoc as possible,” says Awad.

“It bolsters the state and the state’s approach to the crackdown against any and all,” says Michael Hanna, a fellow at the Century Foundation in New York, in reference to ABM joining ISIS. “It’s a boon to those who want to paint the most far-reaching picture of the threat that Egypt faces. It’s a shot in the arm to hardliners in the Egyptian security establishment. But of course there’s a real terrorism problem, there’s no question about that.”

TIME Egypt

Egypt Militant Group Says It Killed U.S. Oil Worker

The photographed passport identifies William Henderson, a 58-year-old from Texas

(CAIRO) — An Egyptian militant organization allied with the Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the killing of an American oil worker.

Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, which now refers to itself as the Sinai Province, said on its official Twitter account late Sunday that it killed William Henderson. It published pictures of his passport and two identification cards. It did not say when or how it killed him.

The passport said he was a 58-year-old from Texas and his identification cards said he worked for Texas-based energy company Apache Corp. and Qarun Petroleum Co., a joint venture with Egypt.

Apache said in August that one of its supervisors had been killed in an apparent carjacking in Egypt’s Western Desert. The company did not identify the man.

The Enid News & Eagle in northwestern Oklahoma published an obituary for a man named William Henderson in August, saying he had “passed suddenly” while working in Egypt. It said he had worked for Apache for 28 years and was 58 when he died.

The U.S. embassy declined to comment on the militant group’s claim, and Apache could not immediately be reached for comment.

Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, a Sinai-based jihadi group, has carried out scores of attacks mainly targeting Egyptian security forces, particularly since the July 2013 overthrow of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi. Last month it pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group, which controls vast swaths of Syria and Iraq.

In a separate statement late Sunday, the Egyptian group claimed to have carried out more than 10 attacks in the past four weeks. It said it blew up six army and police armored vehicles, killed seven police officers and conscripts, and demolished the house of a man accused of being a spy for the army.

The northern part of the Sinai Peninsula has been under a state of emergency since the group attacked an army checkpoint in October, killing 31 soldiers.

TIME Egypt

Mubarak Court Ruling Another Blow to the Spirit of Egypt’s Revolution

Seen as major setback for what's left of Arab Spring movement

An Egyptian court cleared Egypt’s former President Hosni Mubarak on Saturday of charges related to corruption and the killing of demonstrators during the 2011 uprising that ejected him from power.

The ruling dealt a blow to many Egyptians who took part in the revolution and who demanded Mubarak be held accountable for 30 years of repressive rule and for the deaths of at least 846 protesters who were killed during the uprising.

“The failure to hold Mubarak accountable for the deaths of hundreds of protesters, while Egyptian courts have sentenced hundreds of Egyptians for merely participating in demonstrations, is emblematic of the glaring miscarriages of justice doled out by Egypt’s judiciary,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of the Middle East and North Africa Division at Human Rights Watch. “This is a fresh slap in the face to every Egyptian who believed that their revolution would bring fairness into their lives.”

The removal of the charges was seen as another setback for what is left of the driving spirit of the Arab Spring’s most significant revolution. Many of the institutional changes engendered by the uprising have been reversed.

Mohamed Morsi, the Islamist President elected in 2012, was removed by the military last year following a separate wave of protests. The current President, former military chief Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, has presided over a sweeping campaign on Islamists and other political dissidents.

Mubarak was acquitted in Saturday’s ruling, issued by a three-judge panel in the morning hours, of corruption charges related to the sale of natural gas to Israel at below-market prices. The head judge on the panel, Mahmoud Kamel al-Rashidi, announced that the charges of involvement in the deaths of protesters had been ruled inadmissible on a technicality.

Mubarak is currently serving a prison sentence in a separate corruption case and did not immediately go free. Sitting in the courtroom wearing sunglasses, the former autocrat showed little emotion in the televised hearing.

By late afternoon, several hundred anti-government protesters gathered outside Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the central site of the protests that forced Mubarak out in 2011. Security forces had sealed the entrances to the square. Demonstrators faced off with armored personnel carriers across a barbed wire fence dragged into place by soldiers.

“The people demand the fall of the regime!” the crowd chanted in a reprise of an iconic chant of the revolution. “Down with military rule!” Though nowhere near the size of previous Tahrir demonstrations the rally was a rare display in a country where the resurgent regime has criminalized unauthorized protest.

“I want to ask a question: How did they [the protesters] die?” said a demonstrator named Karim Abdel Wahab, standing in the crowd. “Was it Photoshop? Did they kill themselves?” He held a handwritten cardboard sign reading, “Where is justice?” As he spoke, the demonstration swelled. Later, police scattered the crowd using gunfire and teargas. The Interior Ministry said in a statement that it dispersed the protesters after Muslim Brotherhood members began fighting with other protesters.

The court’s decision was the latest episode in a lengthy and complex legal saga that is likely to continue as Egypt’s chief prosecutor announced Saturday that he plans to appeal the decision to drop the case over the protesters’ deaths. Mubarak had initially been sentenced to life in prison in June 2012 after being convicted of failing to prevent the deaths of demonstrators, but a court ordered a retrial on procedural grounds in January 2013.

The ruling was part of the complex interplay between Egypt’s judiciary and the government; at times the judiciary can appear like an arm of the government and at others as an independent state institution. Egyptian judges espouse a diverse set of philosophies and fiercely proclaim their independence from the executive. Some judges criticized Mubarak’s excesses while others supported the system that he oversaw. Many of those same judges have issued harsh sentences rulings against the dissidents and journalists under the crackdown under el-Sisi.

“This is absolutely a triumph for the old regime and for what has come to be called the ‘deep state.’ And the context for the trial has been political from the beginning,” said Nathan Brown, a political scientist and expert on Egypt’s judiciary at George Washington University.

Brown also said the politicized nature of the trial did not mean that the ruling was legally illegitimate, citing procedural and conceptual flaws with the investigation and trial. “A true prosecution of Mubarak — if the impetus had been based on criminal law and not just politics — would have required full cooperation of the security apparatus. The verdict is likely justified by the evidence presented to the court. But a true investigation of the Mubarak presidency did not occur.”

TIME Egypt

Egyptian Court Drops Murder Charges Against Hosni Mubarak

Some 800 people died in battles between security forces and protestors at the end of Mubarak's reign in 2011

An Egyptian court dropped charges on Saturday against 86-year-old former President Hosni Mubarak for the killing of 239 protestors during the 2011 uprising against his regime.

Charges were also dropped against seven of Mubarak’s senior officials, who, like the former president, had been convicted of conspiracy to kill and were sentenced to life in prison in June 2012, the BBC reports. A retrial was ordered last year on a technicality.

The decision dismayed human rights advocates, who demanded harsh punishment for the bloody end to Mubarak’s autocratic, 30-year reign.

As many as 800 people are estimated to have been killed during the Arab Spring protests before Mubarak finally resigned in February 2011.

Many legal experts said the charges against Mubarak were flawed from the beginning, and were rushed to court to appease public demands for reprisal, the New York Times reports.

Outside the courtroom, the former general who led the ouster of Egypt’s democratically elected Islamist government, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has surrounded himself with former Mubarak ministers and advisors.

The decision, Judge Mahmoud Kamel al-Rashidi declared on Saturday, “has nothing to do with politics.”

[BBC]

TIME France

Priceless Ancient Egyptian Antiques Smuggled Into Paris Are Returned

France Egypt
French National Assembly President Claude Bartolone, left, welcomes Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi before their talks in Paris on Nov. 27, 2014 Bertrand Guay—AP

The antiques date back as far as 2,000 B.C.

Some 250 ancient Egyptian artifacts that were found in the luggage of passengers arriving in Paris four years ago were returned Thursday.

French customs handed the trove over to the Egyptian embassy, Associated Press reports.

The items, including rings, amulets, clay posts, funeral statues and other objects, come from different periods during the Egyptian empire, with some dating back as far as 2,000 B.C.

Other antiques hail from the Roman and Byzantine eras and as late as the 7th century.

The smuggled items were seized in 2010 at Charles de Gaulle Airport in the French capital. Their return came at the close of a visit to Paris by Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi.

[AP]

TIME Egypt

Egypt Jails 78 Boys for Being at a Muslim Brotherhood Rally

Morsi supporters stage rallies on Rabaa's 1-year mark
Anticoup protesters shout slogans as they march at al-Haram Street during a demonstration on Aug. 14, 2014, in Cairo, marking the first anniversary of the killing of hundreds of Morsi supporters by security forces Anadolu Agency—Getty Images

The youngest are 13 years old; sentences range up to five years

Seventy-eight boys have been sentenced to up to five years in prison by an Egyptian court for being present at Muslim Brotherhood protests.

The boys, between the ages of 13 and 17, were sentenced for taking part in a rally calling for the return of President Mohamed Morsi, who was ousted in 2014, the BBC reports.

But a defense lawyer for the boys says some of them were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Ever since Morsi was deposed, Egyptian authorities have been cracking down on thousands of his supporters and indeed on any opposition. At least 1,400 people have died and more than 15,000 are in prison.

A draft antiterrorism law was approved Wednesday, giving the government blanket powers to ban opposition groups on charges such as harming national unity and disrupting public order.

[BBC]

TIME Bizarre

The Origins of the ‘Pharaoh’s Curse’ Legend

Howard Carter and King Tut
Howard Carter, English Egyptologist, near golden sarcophagus of Tutankhamon in Egypt in 1922 Rue des Archive / Getty Images

Nov. 26, 1922: Archaeologists enter King Tut’s tomb for the first time

To those who entered King Tut’s tomb — the first people to see inside since the teenaged pharaoh was buried there 3,300 years earlier — the experience inspired either awe or terror.

For British archaeologist Howard Carter, it was a career-defining discovery and the culmination of years of searching for the lost tomb. The hunt had seemed hopeless after months spent sifting through 70,000 tons of sand and gravel, according to Carter’s obituary in the New York Times. But when a workman found a step cut into a chunk of bedrock buried in the sand, the stairway it revealed led to the door of the tomb. Carter opened it on this day, Nov. 26, in 1922.

Tutankhamen was only about 8 or 9 when he came to power in 1332 BC. His decade-long rule was relatively unremarkable in Egyptian history; the discovery of his tomb was significant instead because it was the first such tomb to be found almost entirely intact.

Inside, according to a 1922 New York Times account, stood two life-size statues of the pharaoh wearing solid gold sandals and gold crowns adorned with stylized cobras. The cobras gave local workmen pause, especially after a grim omen later that day. According to the Times, Carter kept a canary as a pet, but that night it was killed by a snake. “The incident made an impression on the native staff, who regard it as a warning from the spirit of the departed King against further intrusion on the privacy of his tomb,” the Times noted.

Newspapers began reporting the legend of a “Pharoah’s Curse,” which would mean death for anyone who disturbed the ancient rulers’ slumber. The wealthy Brit who financed Carter’s excavation, and who joined him inside the tomb on this day 92 years ago, was dead by April — although, as the Times noted, “he had been in bad health.” Eleven other people in the group that entered the tomb with Carter were dead within seven years.

In his 1939 obituary, the Times points out that Carter, despite being fairly sickly himself, lived long enough to be “the best refutation of the curse.” He may have been too dazzled by the tomb’s gilded treasures to give superstition a second thought — after all, Tut was not, in fact, buried in his jammies. Instead, as TIME reported when his coffin was finally opened three years after the tomb was, he wore golden sandals, a gold-inlaid royal apron, a golden star in the place where his heart had been and “innumerable amulets of beauty and ghostly merit, as well as two swords, jewel-studded.”

Over his head and shoulders, Tut wore his now-iconic solid-gold death mask, inlaid with lapis lazuli and precious stones. On his forehead were representations of the deities tasked with protecting him in death: one in the form of a vulture, the other a cobra meant to spit poison at his enemies.

The cobra may have taken revenge on Carter’s canary, but it did little to keep the archaeologist from disturbing the pharaoh’s eternal rest. After Carter opened Tut’s sarcophagus, he and his workers “wrenched the golden mask away from the royal mummy,” the BBC reported — and decapitated the Boy King in the process.

Read TIME’s 1934 report on rumors that a prominent Egyptologist had fallen prey to King Tut’s curse: A Curse on a Curse

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