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On Monday, the Islamic State (IS) claimed yet another deadly attack, killing at least 18 Egyptian police officers through using a roadside IED and an ensuing gun battle. The horrific attack occurred on the Sinai Peninsula, near the Israeli border, a region, which is plagued by conflict since the Egyptian revolution in 2011. Ever since the autocratic Islamist President Morsi was ousted in 2013 through a coup d’etat, a conflict in the area has been worsened, with the military crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters to antagonize radical groups. In 2017, various catastrophic attacks have been launched by the IS, such as the Palm Sunday Church bombings, killing 40 people, and the January El-Arish police checkpoint truck bombing, which has killed 13 people. In July, two suicide car bombs killed 23 Egyptian soldiers in what Reuters has deemed, ‘one of the bloodiest assaults’ in years in the Northern Sinai region.
However, the escalating brutality of militant groups has largely been matched by the bureaucratic response, under President Abdul Fattah Al-Sisi. Prime Minister Ismail, according to a government statement, has affirmed the state’s use of the ‘full force’ available to counter assailants. Rhetoric such as this often implies the violation of human rights or at least the freedom to do so, a reality which has been uncovered in a recent report by the Human Rights Watch (HRW). In the last four years, over 1,000 protesters have been killed in clashes with the Egyptian security forces, most of them were supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood. Ironically, al-Sisi’s predecessor, Morsi, was removed due to his dictatorial tendencies, and as the current premier attempts to undermine the political opposition, he risks entering the autocratic realm.
The report from the HRW claims torture of political opponents through techniques such as stress positions, electric shock treatment, and even rape are ‘routine’ practice. Since the ousting of Morsi, and the subsequent increases in opposition from Islamist groups, allegations of human rights abuses and widespread torture have surrounded the state. President Al-Sisi, due to his prior tenure as the Minister of Defence, and his role in leading the military coup of Morsi has according to the report, granted excessive authority to the military, allowing such abuses to occur. In fact, the means of torture have, according to Egyptian Human rights groups, been used uniformly throughout the country, under police and military instruction. The ascribed purpose of the torture is to fabricate cases against political opponents and thus fill the 19 new prisons and jails constructed since 2013, in a bid to cripple the Muslim Brotherhood.
Through interviews with various former detainees, the HRW acquired evidence of enforced, filmed and pre-written confessions of crimes. Khaled, an interviewee, claimed to be ‘at their mercy’ in an ‘assembly line’ of abuse. The United Nations Committee against Torture came to the ‘inescapable conclusion’ that torture is systematic practice in the Egyptian security service.
With similarities to Morsi’s autocratic rule, the barbaric practices of al-Sisi’s governance hark back to Hosni Mubarak’s brutal regime, who similarly held indifference to illegally detaining political opponents in hidden detention facilities. Mubarak, in a rare public appearance, exclaimed his support for Al-Sisi in a 2014 interview, prior to the presidential election, rightfully claiming that ‘the people want Sisi’. With great instability, especially in the Sinai region, al-Sisi’s Egypt is likely on course to recreate the environment which sparked the 2011 revolution and ended Mubarak’s tumultuous 30-year stretch leading the Egyptian government.