Insults, arrests, assaults, shootings, and even torture to death are a few examples of what Egyptian lawyers have endured under the current police system. In the end, a few words from ministerial officials are enough to overshadow the seriousness of police brutality towards holders of such a prestigious and ‘hectic’ profession.
Last Saturday, five conscripts from the Central Security Forces (CSF), affiliated to the Ministry of Interior, assaulted a group of lawyers, who claimed to have interfered to stop the same conscripts from assaulting relatives of defendants at the Shubra El-Kheima court.
According to several accounts of the lawyers reported by local media and confirmed to Daily News Egypt by Mahmoud Youssef, Qalyubia’s head of the Lawyers’ Syndicate, lawyers had been outraged by what they described as “excessive brutality and insult to lawyers”, rallying in large numbers at the court until the day after the incidents.
On Sunday evening, an apology statement was issued by the Qaliubiya chief of security Saeed Shalaby. The official used the recurrent argument, commonly used by the Ministry of Interior after claims of police assaults on citizens: “It was an individual mistake.”
The four lawyers sustained injuries to various parts of the head because they were beaten with sticks. Yet, the apology was apparently enough to end the hours-long open-strike.
“Indeed the sit-in was dispersed,” said Youssef, in comments to Daily News Egypt Monday. Youssef added that the five conscripts who attacked the lawyers and citizens were not detained, although investigations are ongoing.
“A meeting will be held with security leaders and syndicate members to set a protocol of cooperation between police and lawyers,” Youssef stated. “Regarding that particular incident, there are going to be efforts of reconciliation between both parties but in case of their failure, there is going to be a trial,” he continued.
Moreover, head of North Cairo’s syndicate Mohamed Osman, who is following up on the case, said the lawyers proved they were assaulted at the Forensic Medicine Authority and have eye-witnesses.
“The lawyers were not direct parties in the conflict; they were just defending other citizens being assaulted outside the court. The case is following its legal path but prosecution procedures might take some time,” Osman commented to Daily News Egypt.
Pointing out that it was not the first assault of its kind, Osman’s interpretation is that there is increasing police brutality against all citizens. “Those mad policemen are systematically insulting all citizens,” he added.
Most lawyers are in agreement that they are regularly being insulted and complaints of excessive use of force by security forces, indicating that the Shubra El-Kheima incident is only one among a series of repeated assaults on lawyers by the police. The most controversial case remains that of Kareem Hamdy, allegedly killed by torture inside the Matariya police station.
President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi issued a public apology to lawyers on 7 June, yet assaults continued. Lawyers attempted several escalations against the Interior Ministry, including a one-day general strike. This is in addition to the legal prosecution of lawyers.
“Lawyers are constantly attacked in courts and police stations. Police conscripts seem to be unstoppable and managed to form their own state-within-a-state,” said Mohamed Wagdy.
Wagdy, a lawyer based in Port Said, was shot in the hand by a police conscript on 17 October. He lost part of his middle finger in his left hand. Wagdy said he had rejected reconciliation attempts by the conscript’s family.
“Even if he only gets six months in jail, I will be happy. I have to avenge my dignity as a lawyer,” Wagdy said, speaking to Daily News Egypt nearly a month after the incident.
According to Wagdy’s account of the shooting, a private car obstructed the way of his car, as he was driving near the port at around 11:30 pm. “Two police conscripts came out asking me for my driving licence, but we started arguing when I asked for their identity,” he said.
By then, Wagdy had told them he was a lawyer and that he was entitled to know which entity they belonged to but they refused under the pretext that they were dressed in “police clothes”.
“One of them started harassing me and my wife, asking me to step out of the car, which I refused to do, he put a gun to my head and threatened to shoot so I told him that legally he would not be able to,” Wagdy continued.
“He took a step back and actually opened fire. The bullet breached the car window on my side, injured my hand, and came out of the window next to me. Later in police reports, the shooter said he was only trying to scare me, and when I tried to stop him the bullet was shot by mistake,” Wagdy reported.
“Mistakes”, or “involuntarily crimes” as described by the law are often the conclusion of such situations, making the penalty on the perpetuator less severe.
“I wanted to pursue this case on charges of attempted murder, which could be penalised by a jail term ranging from three to seven years,” Wagdy said, adding that he knew the charges would be “accidental shooting”, a less serious charge.
Wagdy’s wish to seek punishment against his shooter was communicated to Sameh Ashour, recently re-elected as president of the Lawyers Syndicate. Ashour is sometimes criticised for failing to “protect the prestige of lawyers”.
“My point of applying penalties is important to send a message to the entire system that we cannot be insulted in this way. The problem is that many young lawyers within the syndicate are currently frustrated, in comparison to older lawyers who hold senior syndicate positions, who prefer to negotiate with the government,” Wagdy established.
As for Youssef, he also said he was sceptical of police seriously taking any coordinated deals with the syndicate. “The police force requires a very long time to achieve reform, but currently they are always on the defensive due to the paranoia of violence and terrorism threats,” he said.