As Egypt's president al-Sisi looks set to be re-elected in March, Orla Guerin meets the victims of alleged human rights violations by his regime.
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Now on BBC News, it's
time for Our World.
Welcome to Egypt.
Enticing images of timeless
hospitality and ancient attractions.
A picture postcard view
the authorities are keen to promote.
But there is another Egypt -
a military-backed regime
where dreams of freedom
have been crushed.
and this is the approach to dissent.
In the last few minutes the police
have been using teargas and have
been live rounds. I have been the
BBC 's corresponded in Egypt in the
four years. I have tracked the
escalating crackdown on the streets.
Gatherings like this are few and far
between. Gunfire. And I have
witnessed peaceful protest is being
I have never seen a
regime as bloody as Sisi's regime.
regime were a growing number have
This regime is based on Terara and
torture is one detail of that.
freedom is under attack, much of the
brutality carries on scene. This is
a story the regime would prefer us
not to tell.
It all looked so different seven
This was Tahrir Square
in February 2011 -
the night the people broke free
of President Hosni Mubarak,
ending 30 years of authoritarian
rule - or so they hoped.
At the new dawn didn't bring a
vibrant new democracy in the heart
of the Middle East.
Now, the square feels like a place
of lost opportunity.
Well, standing here in Tahrir Square
seven years on, there is really
to indicate that this
was the cradle of an uprising,
that it was here that the people
toppled an autocrat.
The monument is bare,
no list of names of all of those
who were killed, and that is just
the way the authorities want it.
It is as if the revolution has been
erased and along with it,
the hope it brought.
The former military strongman Hosni
Mubarak wound up behind bars. He was
succeeded in 2012 and the Islamist
Mohamed more sea the Muslim
Brotherhood. Egypt's first
democratically elected president.
But he too was jailed after a
divisive here in office. He had been
ousted in July 2013 in a military
coup that had mass popular support.
The coup was led by the Army Chief,
General Abdel Fatteh el-Sisi who
went on to be alert to President one
year later. Critics say he has
presided over an unprecedented
assault on human rights. I came to
Cairo on Egremont's watch as history
was being rewritten. Those hailed as
heroes of the revolution were being
treated as enemies of the state.
Like Alaa Abd El-Fattah, one of
Egypt's best-known dissidents. He is
seen here out on bail. The blogger
and human rights campaigner is from
a prominent family of activist.
was someone who could have been
amazing, not just to this country,
this is someone with a really
valuable mind and set of skills and
it is because of fat that he is
being put away.
I met Alaa Abd
El-Fattah in April 20 14. He had
already been charged and he talked
about how much worse things were
than before the revolution.
were confronting Mubarek, hope was
material things, like you could
almost touch it, and it was very
easy to feel that it was worth it
and people were taking these risks
without feeling any kind of despair.
Right now it is looking bleak.
He was a leading light
of the Tahrir protests.
a software developer,
He was used to paying the price for
speaking out. He was jailed or
threatened with arrest under all of
the recent regimes here. And when
his son was born, he was in prison.
Alaa Abd El-Fattah was accused
of organising this protest.
The demonstrators appeared peaceful.
The authorities were not.
Protest or effectively banned.
-- Protests are effectively banned.
I was in court to see him being
convicted. Others came forward to
say they plan to the protest. He
still got five years. Another member
of generation jail.
His fractured family
go through the motions
without a much-loved son,
husband and brother.
Human rights groups say
there are thousands like them
in Egypt, families of
His sister campaigns
against civilians being tried
in military courts.
His mother has been an activist for
decades. In this household,
percenters the family business
the family business
But she says the struggle for change
is harder than ever under
President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
The level of bloodiness
is beyond anything I've ever
heard or experienced.
And the way they have managed
to desensitise people towards death,
to belittle the value of people's
lives, to make people get used
to death sentences, to forced
disappearances and abduction,
to torture, to torture victims,
this is becoming daily News.
Her brother has another year
then faces a further five
years on probation with
In this tightly knit group,
the empty space at the table
is keenly felt.
these days on the streets, there is
no clamour for reform. Many are
struggling to get by. And grateful
the relative stability. And plenty
prefer not to raise their heads
above the parapet. With good reason.
Well, there is something that you
cannot see here that you can feel
and that his fear. It has been
increasing during my time here.
People who would have been ready to
speak on camera two or three years
ago are too frightened to do that
now. In the last few weeks we have
looked into many cases,
disappearances, torture, people
whose loved ones were killed in
custody, and those families were too
frightened to work here. They tell
us they are afraid and other loved
one will be arrested if they do. --
and other loved one.
Those who end up in custody
can expect the harshest treatment.
Torture is nothing new in Egypt. But
my sources say it is now routine
Mahmood Mohammed Hussein has
of the latest torture techniques.
We first met one year ago when every
step was a reminder of the abuse he
suffered. He was held without trial
for more than two years. This is the
only reason he was arrested,
aged just 18, was
because of his T-shirt.
The slogan read "A nation
now 22, he is struggling to rebuild
his life. But could still be tried
for attending a band protest. And
joining a terrorist group. Charges
he denies. -- banned. Despite the
risks, he wants to tell the world
Aren't you afraid that by speaking
out like this that the authorities
could come after you again?
Others also want their words to be
heard at feel unable to appear on
camera. Like another young man I met
who described being subjected to
every kind of abuse. He gave us a
detailed, credible and disturbing
account, he identified the police
station where he was interrogated
and tortured, he said he was beaten,
blindfolded, stripped, kicked, and
electrocuted. And later, in his
words, he discovered there was
something worse than electrocution,
he was raped with a stick. Torture
victims used to have one refuge. One
place to go for support. This centre
in Cairo. For over two decades,
staff provided rehabilitation. But
last year, the authorities moved in
and forced the Centre to close its
doors. Its co-founder, a
psychiatrist, says the prevalence of
torture is the worst she has ever
I work in this field since
1993 and I have been hearing about
this field is in my university
years. What I have been seeing and
what might colleagues have been
seeing since 2013 is unheard of.
was never, ever that the. So how
widespread would you say the
practice is now?
As widespread as
the conflict. As widespread as the
What would you say to
government officials here need you
to deny them as torture?
liars. I would say you are liars. I
would say you know there is torture
because you practise it. What can I
say? And I would say that there will
come the day. Maybe I will not
witness the day but there will come
a day when those people will be
brought to justice.
But justice can
be elusive for anyone hidden behind
the Sun. That's what Egyptians call
those who vanished from the streets
and are held in secret by the state.
Most are Islamist but anyone
opposing the regime is at risk.
Human rights campaigners say
enforced disappearances are a
trademark of the Abdel Fattah
al-Sisi era. They have documented at
least 1500 cases in the last quarter
years. But they believe the real
figure is much higher. -- last four
years. Most of the disappeared and
merge weeks or months later in
custody, facing terrorism charges.
But some remain hidden. But this
man's brother who has been gone
since July 2013. A bill says his
brother, Mohammad Amir, was an
engineering student who disappeared
as an Islamist protest aged 22. He
tells me witnesses saw him being
taken away by the security forces.
The years of fruitless searching
since then have been a torment for
Their father, Ibrahim, a lawyer, has
been fighting a lonely battle for
Egypt's disappeared. He founded an
association for families of the
victims. Last September, he set off
for Geneva, to address a United
Nations working group on
disappearances. However, at Cairo
airport he is well joined the ranks
of the disappeared and was later
discovered in jail. The lawyer is
now being held here in the full
bidding prison complex in Cairo. His
family says he has been tortured. --
across town after nightfall, a
journey to yet another broken
family. We are on our way to see a
mother who has a truly terrible
story to tell. We have been in touch
with her over the last few weeks and
we have arranged to sit down with
her tonight. She lives in a suburb
out near the pyramids so we are them
now. -- headed there now. This is a
student of 23 who wants to open her
own business. Her mother says that
she and her daughter were arrested
near a demonstration in 2014 and
convicted of offences including
attending a band protest. She says
they were in the wrong place at the
wrong time and spent seven months in
jail but were later acquitted. She
tells me that in 2016, is a glider
was detained again at a police
checkpoint and disappeared. -- her
daughter was detained again. She was
dumped by the roadside after 28 days
a changed girl.
But her legal papers show the
anguish did not end there. As she
was struggling to recover, she
disappeared for the second time last
April. Her mother says neighbours
saw her being taken by armed and
She seeks comfort now in her
daughter's bedroom. And in mementos
from the past.
Her treasured keepsakes are just as
she left them are waiting for her
return. Her mother refuses to give
up hope, refuses to be silenced.
We wanted to ask the authorities
about her daughter 's disappearance
and the other cases in this report.
We approached the Interior Ministry,
the Foreign Ministry and the state
information service. No-one was
prepared to be interviewed. In the
past, the authorities have told me
there is no systematic torture. But
if mistakes are made, offices are
punished. They have also denied
there are enforced disappearances
and widespread human rights abuses.
On the banks of the Nile, there is
little hint of change. Egypt looks
locked in the past. Elections are
coming but the President does not
need to worry about the outcome.
Several potential to help meet
challenges have been intimidated out
of the race. -- potential
challengers. Many here are concerned
about security and the bomb attacks
by the so-called Islamic State. The
president says he is waging war on
terror. But human rights campaigners
say he is using that as a pretext to
wage war on dissent. Having been
here for over four years I know a
lot of the problems that Egypt is
facing. There are real economic
issues. There are serious security
threats from Islamic State. But this
is the most populous country in the
Arab world and if Egypt cannot steer
a course towards real democracy,
that is the problem for the Middle
East and a problem for the West. I
am leaving him with questions. How
long before all of the repression
here starts to backfire? And how
many more prisons and the regime
feel? -- fill?
Featuring news programmes on current issues around the world. Leading challengers have been harassed out of the March 2018 presidential race in Egypt and Abdel Fattah al-Sisi looks guaranteed to be re-elected. Critics accuse him of an unprecedented assault on human rights. They say mass arrests, torture and 'disappearances' are hallmarks of his regime. With press freedom under attack much of the brutality goes unseen. The BBC's Cairo correspondent Orla Guerin meets victims and their families.