By Sarah Wali
Recently, a Cairo police officer was sentenced to 2 years in prison after videos of him torturing a prisoner came out on the internet.
The case brought to light the issue of police brutality in Egypt, and was covered by media around the world. Ever since then, the Egyptian Ministry of Interior has been under pressure to address the issue, and face up to its responsibilities as the employer of this country’s police officers.
The Minster of Interior, Habeeb Al-Adl, decided to hold a conference. Over the course of three days the soldiers are being lectured at under a banner reading: “Protecting Human Rights and Ensuring His Basic Rights.” Stephen and I were invited to attend the conference held Saturday June 7. We were told we would be able to film and record the lectures, and perhaps get a tour when we were done.
The camera was set up at the back of the room, with the aid of a very kind older police officer. We were expecting a lecture series with topics such as Human Rights: a Definition or Understanding Basic Rights. Yet the lectures we attended were a far cry from your average human rights conference.
They talked at the audience on a variety of issues such as history, economics, politics, international law and the media. Half the officers were asleep. The other half either stared blankly or attempted to look interested. The speakers used college level language, when most of their audience had never gone to high school.
I began to watch the men that had to endure this kind of speeches every day. I wondered what they were thinking, and if they digested exactly what was being said to them. So I decided to try to film them, as discreetly as possible. I took the camera off the tripod, and walked down the side ally. I tried to stand behind the government television guy, so that I would not be as noticeable. I got away with it for about 25 minutes.
I had put the camera back on the tripod when the second highest ranking officer approached me.
“Ms. Sarah, please no filming.”
I immediately shut the equipment off, after all our purposes were served better if we stayed. While I was apologizing to him, my phone rang. It was Hani Abdel-Wahab, the ministry’s PR rep, who had set up the meeting. He gave me the same message – no filming.
By now, they had, of course, begun the United States act of the show. The US was accused of violating human rights in Guantanamo Bay, and deliberately creating rifts within the Arab world. At this point, no one was even bothering to pretend like they were awake. Steven and I took a seat, and used a sound recorder to get the rest on audio.
As everyone piled out we were approached. Standard procedure, they wanted copies of our passports, which we gave them, and left. As we drove away I called Abdel Wahab, thanking him for the day.
He offered me a tour of the Cairo prisons, to see the pro-human rights plans in action. I hadn’t gotten a true sense of the plans, and accepted his invitation and will be going Monday.