The conviction of Mohamed Sobhi el-Shenawy, who became infamous for shooting at the eyes of protesters, means little while Egypt's deeper culture of police brutality goes unchallenged
They called him the Eye Sniper of Cairo. In November 2011, 10 months on from the uprising that was supposed to end state repression in Egypt, a young police lieutenant named Mohamed Sobhi el-Shenawy put his shotgun to his shoulder and started firing pellets at protesters near Tahrir Square. Egypt's already lax police protocol requires armed officers to shoot at people's legs. Shenawy shot at their eyes.
The eyepatches worn by those blinded by Shenawy became a vivid reminder of the unfinished nature of the Egyptian revolution. Other protesters wore fake patches in solidarity, while graffiti artists daubed portraits of the blinded on streets leading from Tahrir Square. Hosni Mubarak may have been toppled, but Shenawy's barbarism showed that the military dictatorship that followed was barely any better.
Fifteen months later, the Eye Sniper has finally been sentenced. On Tuesday, Shenawy was jailed for three years – giving the impression to outsiders that Egypt's new Islamist leaders might be about to take police reform (one of the main demands of the 2011 uprising) seriously.
But the view from inside Egypt is more nuanced. "We have mixed feelings," says Karim Ennarah, a security sector researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, whose lawyers were heavily involved in the case. "We're very happy that we have a rare conviction of a police officer ... But you have to be aware of the bigger picture."
For Shenawy's jail sentence is something of an anomaly. Ten months before his crimes, in January 2011, at least 846 protesters were murdered during the uprising against Mubarak. Only two policemen have been jailed for their part in the killings.
"It's just for show, to make people feel that things are going in the right direction," adds Islam Khalifa, a human rights lawyer who represents victims of police brutality. "Many other policemen who committed many crimes have not been charged or faced any kind of justice." Even Shenawy's sentence was lenient – the same as the three years handed down in December to an Egyptian blogger accused of blasphemy.
What's more, police brutality shows no sign of abating. The ongoing civil unrest in the northern city of Port Said was sparked by a bloodbath in late January that killed over 40 locals – a massacre that residents and human rights groups say was exacerbated by draconian police behaviour.
In Cairo, campaigners allege that the police have resumed a campaign of torture, and in some cases, murder. Last weekend, the body of missing protester Mohamed Shafie was finally found – shot by police, alleges Khalifa, the lawyer dealing with his case. Shafie had been missing for a month, and his mother had visited every hospital and morgue in Cairo to find his body. "His body was rotten," says Khalifa. "At first we couldn't recognise him." At his funeral yesterday near Tahrir Square, mourners were teargassed by police.
In a similarly shocking case, Mohamed el-Guindy, a 28-year-old activist, died following protests in Tahrir Square on 27 January this year. The authorities claimed he died in a car crash. But lawyers say he was left in a coma by police after officers took him to a police camp, strangled him with a cord and electrocuted his tongue – before abandoning him at a hospital in Cairo on 31 January.
The Muslim Brotherhood – the alma mater of Mohamed Morsi, Egypt's first democratically elected president – says police reform will take time because the state apparatus it hase inherited is riddled with corruption. "The corruption of the past 60 years is not going to be solved in just one or two or even five years," says Walid al-Haddad, a spokesman for the Freedom and Justice Party, the Brotherhood's political wing.
But human rights activists argue that the Brotherhood has no genuine interest in doing anything about the problem. "They do not intend to reform the police," says Aida Seif el-Dawla, the co-founder of the Egyptian Association Against Torture. "They have a choice: to remain in power supported by the people. Or remain in power supported by institutions like the police."
The Eye Sniper may have been jailed. But the police culture that enabled his actions has barely changed.
|< Prev||Next >|