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Sally Sami

Regions : Greater Middle East : Egypt

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Sally Sami has been a human rights defender for nearly a decade. She was one of the main coordinators of the Front to Defend Egypt's Protesters (FDEP) during the 2011 Egyptian Revolution. Sami continues to defend human rights, but has become involved in politics and currently is a leading member of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party and has been elected its Secretary General for Civil Society Affairs.

Twitter: @salamander 

Khaled Saeed-- [Khaled Saeed was a young Egyptian who was beaten to death by Egyptian security forces in 2010. His death helped rally opposition to the Mubarak government.] I wish I had known him before he died. I feel like, had I known him, we would have been friends. Khaled Saeed is a young man living in Alexandria who was either in an Internet cafe or in front of an Internet cafe, when two civil-clothed police officers came over and asked for his ID, and he refused. So they dragged him out and started beating the hell out of him, basically.

Smashing his head on a marble stairway inside a building in front of people until he died. He was later taken by a police car and then returned and dumped again in the street, until an ambulance came and picked him up. His parents were told that he swallowed a bag of narcotics and choked to death. The images of Khaled Saeed's post-mortem, post-death, did not reflect someone choking at all. There were injuries all over his face.

Obviously his jaw was broken, head injury, blood basically, coming out. And it wasn't the story to be sold, basically. Whether he had a bag of narcotics or not, that wasn't the case. The case was that he was beaten in front of people, and police thought that they can get away with it by just telling his parents and everyone that he just swallowed a bag of narcotics and choked to death, and they were trying to save him. When the Khaled Saeed case came out to the public it was a picture of him next to a picture of his face after he died. That was quite shocking for many people.

For me personally I could see my brother being in this situation. I could see so many people I know. His face resembled many people I know. And I took it personally. For me, Khaled Saeed was a personal case. And I think it was personal for many people. But he's not the only case in Egypt. This is the beauty, and Khaled sparked a movement-- there was a movement against torture in Egypt for years, even during the terrorism years when human rights defenders were calling for fair trials and against torture.

There has been so many organizations and very brave human rights defenders who have been fighting torture in Egypt and, as a result, putting themselves at risk. And we've been through phases of torture with very difficult to bring to the public. Culturally, it was more or less accepted. It suddenly became a person. I think that's why it became a personal issue to everyone. Khaled Saeed is truly-- we are all Khaled Saeed in many ways. And thus we are all vulnerable to being beaten, tortured, abused, having fake cases fabricated against us. All of this is a possibility in a country where under a regime and under a minister of interior who was becoming more and more arrogant, more and more audacious. Impunity was becoming a matter of fact, whether we liked it or not.

There was no shame. There was no way-- there was no attempts to cover it up, even, and justify it in a way. After the Khaled Saeed story leaked out, immediately, the Ministry of Interior issued a statement saying that he choked, without any investigation or anything, and that even drove people more insane. Like, this is a complicity in the crime. There was one protest by human rights defenders that was held in front of the Ministry of Interior. It was attacked. There were people who were arrested and beaten. And then the "We Are All Khaled Saeed" Facebook page came out. And suddenly, young Egyptians who have never been involved are involved.

Everyone in Egypt going down peacefully and giving their back to the streets, looking at the Nile or over a bridge, wearing black, just silently saying no to torture and impunity. And I think this was the beginning, with of course, other issues, any other things like El-Baradei coming to Egypt. Khaled was not an activist. Khaled was just a normal young Egyptian, middle class Egyptian.

He might have had his mistakes, but he was a living being, and a lovely one who was loved very much by his mother who, until now, suffers, but has been doing an amazing job pushing for this case and even for other cases of torture or unjust killings. And he, and we, as Egyptians, we all deserve justice. And this shouldn't have passed. The fact that a young man was just killed like that simply because he resisted being arrested is just unacceptable. 

With a history dating back to the 10th millennium B.C., Egypt has long played a central role in the Middle East. Egypt is the largest Arab nation and has an influential voice in Arabic and Middle Eastern culture. Egypt has a diverse economy, but has struggled to create sustained economic growth and opportunities for its population of 84 million people.

The country has little experience with representative democracy. From 1956 to 1970, President Gamal Abdel Nasser ruled Egypt with a strong hand, nationalizing the Suez Canal and taking the country into conflict with the new state of Israel. Upon his death, Anwar al-Sadat became president. Together with other Arab nations, Sadat launched the October War against Israel in 1973. In 1979, Sadat signed a groundbreaking peace treaty with Israel.

From Sadat’s assassination in 1981 until the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, Egypt was governed by President Hosni Mubarak. For all of Mubarak’s time in office, and for much of the time since his resignation, Egypt has been under “Emergency Law,” which allows the government to suspend constitutional rights, including limiting political activity and restricting free speech. Emergency Law also allows the government to use summary arrests against political opponents.

For four successive terms, Mubarak was reelected in referenda without an opponent. In 2005, under domestic and international pressure, Mubarak proposed a constitutional amendment to allow Egypt’s first multicandidate presidential elections. Because the amendment would have imposed severe restrictions on the eligibility of opposition candidates, opposition groups boycotted the vote. Mubarak claimed to have won the September 2005 presidential election with an official 88 percent of the vote, amid widespread allegations of fraud and vote rigging. The main opposition leader, Ayman Nour, was subsequently prosecuted by the government for forging signatures on petitions and was sentenced to five years in prison, provoking protests from the United States and other democratic countries.

Following the example of the Tunisian Revolution, large protests swept Egypt in early 2011. The military, led by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), withdrew its support of Mubarak. On February 11, 2011, Vice President Omar Suleiman announced that Mubarak had resigned. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) headed by Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi then assumed power in Egypt. SCAF dissolved the parliament and suspended the constitution.

In November 2011, Egypt held parliamentary elections that were reportedly fair and democratic. In June 2012, Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi was elected President, in part because liberal and secular forces failed to coalesce around a single candidate. Morsi’s popularity declined as he declared his orders immune from challenge, removed judicial review processes, and was accused of taking steps towards the implementation of Islamist policies. Conflict arose between those supporting Islamist policies and those seeking a more liberal and secular government. Protests occurred throughout his presidency until Morsi was ousted by the military in July 2013. Muslim Brotherhood leaders were arrested and their camps and offices raided. Until new elections are held, a SCAF-installed provisional government led by acting President Adly Mansour is in control.

In its most recent report, the independent watchdog group Freedom House classifies Egypt as “partly free.” On its scale where 1 is the most free and 7is the least free, Egypt earned scores of 5 in both the civil liberties and political rights categories.

More from Sally Sami

Sally Sami: The Death of Khaled Saeed “The fact that a young man was just killed like that is just unacceptable.” Sally Sami: The Alexandria Church Bombing Mubarak’s security state fails to stop the bombing of a Coptic church in Alexandria. Sally Sami: Universality of Human Rights Sally discusses why everyone deserves human rights and freedom. More + Sally Sami: Returning to Egypt “Everyone’s trying to leave the country. I wanted to come back.” Sally Sami: Background Sally discusses her background. Sally Sami: Egypt's Revolution Begins “Revolutions are not dated in advance.” Sally Sami: Stability and Human Rights “There is no security and stability without democracy and human rights.” Sally Sami: Before the Revolution “People felt more and more that they were losing their dignity.” Sally Sami: After the Revolution “Today it feels like the dream is being stolen again.” Sally Sami: The Tunisian Revolution “The Tunisians taught us that things can happen. It can actually happen.”