The world’s journalists have been sifting the tea leaves of the cryptic pronouncements of the Egyptian army command. Certainly the army is likely to play a crucial role in the next few days. So in true liberal spirit it is time to scrutinise them to see if they are really as sympathetic to the protesters as many of them clearly hope. Unfortunately, the true face of the Egyptian army is not pretty.
I can say this because of the eyewitness testimony of the blogger Abdul Kareem Nabil Suleiman, known as Kareem Amer. He has the unenviable distinction of having spent more time in prison (1470 days, more than four years) than anyone else imprisoned for expressing their views online. So when he was stopped on leaving Tahrir Square by pro-government thugs and handed over to the army for breaking the curfew he must have had a feeling of déjà vu.
But what he saw in the military prison he was taken to was worse than the desert prison where he had previously been imprisoned:
This prison was like a trash-can. The cell was tiny and the bathroom was disgusting. They did not allow us to shower even once since we were arrested. People were treated harshly and severely tortured on a daily basis. They were tortured in front of our eyes – water-boarded, beaten with sticks, and electrocuted.
The whole interview is worth a read. If this is how the Egyptian army treat detained protesters, are they really about to side with the people? Kareem thinks not:
How could the Egyptian army commit such violations given that they claim to be neutral or even on the side of the people? “What neutrality?” Amer responded angrily. “They are on the side of the regime. They are humiliating the people. You would not have believed what we saw in this short period in prison.”
Ever since Egypt’s King Farouk was forced to abidicate by the “Free Officers” in 1952 the army has controlled the Egyptian state. All of four of Egypt’s Presidents since then have been army officers (excluding an eight-day caretaker president), and the current President, Vice President and Prime Minister are all military men.
If the army decided to make Mubarak resign, it would be less like Oliver Cromwell sending the Rump Parliament packing, and more like the deposition of Egypt’s first president by his fellow army officer Gamal Abdel Nasser. True change can only come if the military is willing to let civilian Egyptians with support from the opposition take power temporarily until elections are held.
Update: Read this harrowing story of the electric shocks and beatings of Egyptian prisoners by the security services, witnessed by a British journalist. Until recently they were headed by a certain Omar Suleiman, who is now expected to lead an “orderly transition to democracy”.
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