In the nine months since they assumed control, the generals ruling Egypt have managed to run up an abysmal human rights record as Husni Mubarak, whose toppling from power they had promised would usher in a new era of democracy and freedom.
That is what Amnesty International concluded in a report released on Tuesday, which scored the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) for clamping down on freedom of expression, association and assembly, reviving the hated Emergency Laws, trying thousands of civilians in military courts and routinely torturing prisoners.
"If you compare the practices that have been taking place under SCAF, including massive trials of civilians before military courts, the armed forces continuing to shoot and kill, and the use excessive force to disperse demonstrators, it's certainly no better a situation than under Mubarak," Said Haddadi, a researcher in Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa program, told The Media Line.
The stinging critique of the generals came as the death toll from the army's assault on protestors in Tahrir Square, the Cairo crossroads that has served as a rallying point for the revolution, reached 36. The killings prompted sharp condemnation from governments and human rights organizations around the world and underscored Amnesty's charges that SCAF has employed "excessive" and "reckless" force against protestors over the past nine months.
The Amnesty report, Broken Promises: Egypt's Military Rulers Erode Human Rights, didn't provide any new instances of human rights abuses, but added the imprimatur of one of the world's oldest and most respected human rights organizations to the list of the Egyptian regime's critics and provided a systematic accounting of abuse since President Mubarak was forced out of office last February.
The report was the first the London-based human rights organization has produced on Egypt since Mubarak was ousted.
Amid growing violence, a deteriorating economy and doubts about its commitment to a democratic transition, SCAF faces unprecedented pressure to either reform or resign
Protestors who once lauded the military with chants of "the people, the army, one hand!" this week were shouting "the police, the army, one dirty hand!" Egyptians are due to vote on Monday in the first of a series of parliamentary and presidential elections.
The Amnesty report called the decision of the generals to re-impose the Mubarak-era Emergency Law "the greatest erosion of rights since the January uprising." The law, which despite its name had been in force since the 1950s, gives the government wide police powers, suspends constitutional rights and legalizes censorship. Repealing it had been one of the key demands of the protest leaders who helped push Mubarak from power last February.
Thus, SCAF's decision last February to stop enforcing the law was cheered by the Egyptian street, but after an attack on the Israeli Embassy in Cairo in September, it was not only brought back into force but its provisions were widened to encompass offenses such as broadcasting "false news" or "rumors."
Amnesty maintained that detainees it has interviewed say they were tortured or ill-treated while in custody, subject to beatings and electric shocks. No independent, impartial and thorough investigations are known to have been conducted into allegations or complaints of torture, the report said. In August, SCAF said 12,000 civilians had faced or were facing military trials.
Haddadi said Amnesty's only direct contacts with SCAF were last June when a delegation visited Egypt. He said officials defended their human rights practices, including military trials, on the grounds that they were fair.
The Amnesty report comes amid growing concern that the high hopes for the Arab Spring as a catalyst for democracy and civil rights in the Middle East and North Africa are diminishing. Many Tunisians are concerned that democracy is bringing to power Islamists who will impose strictures on women and secular people. In Bahrain, the government has put down protest via mass arrests while in Libya human rights groups have expressed concern about the treatment of imprisoned Al-Qaddafi loyalists and African migrants.
SCAF has defended the human rights rollback in Egypt as necessary to contain lawlessness that disrupts the lives of ordinary Egyptians and undermines the economy. But Mohamed Zaree, program manager at the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, termed SCAF's human rights a "failure."
"Everyone was expecting SCAF to end the [human rights] violations of the past, but it seems to have committed more violation than during the 30 years of the Mubarak regime. We have about 13,000 civilians that have been brought in front of military courts," Zaree told The Media Line.
While Zaree said he expected the election scheduled for next Monday to go ahead as planned, he suspects the generals plan to remain a behind-the-scene power in Egypt even after a new president and parliament take office.
Other human rights trouble spots identified by Amnesty include arbitrary restrictions on the mainstream and social media as well as non-government organizations (NGOs).
Criticism of the military has been effectively banned, which has led to arrests and trials of journalists and bloggers. Newspapers have been confiscated and television news bureaus, including the local Al-Jazeera unit, have been raided and ordered shut.
Already operating under very restrictive laws, Egyptian NGOs are now being threatened with prosecution for receiving foreign funds without permission. A "treason" investigation was opened against more than 30 organization accused of receiving foreign money even though they are not registered with the Ministry of Solidarity and Social Justice as required by law.
The only area where Amnesty could point to any sign of improvement was in workers' rights, where SCAF has not in practice opposed the creation of independent trade unions.
But, the organization said, those advances have been undermined by SCAF's criminalization of strikes and the expansion of the Emergency Law's provisions to include "assault on freedom to work" as an offense.
American students arrested as Cairo protests enter fourth day
Three American students have been arrested in Cairo, accused of throwing fire bombs, as protestors called for one million people to march against what they consider anti-democratic actions by military leaders who have run the country since President Hosni Mubarak was deposed in the early days of the Arab Spring.
The Americans, all young men attending the American University in Cairo, were charged with throwing Molotov cocktails at security forces. Their identities have not yet been released.
They were shown on state television to support claims by the military that the protests, now in their fourth day, were being provoked by foreigners.
The president of the university said he was working with the U.S. embassy to get the students released.
At least 71 people have been killed since clashes between civilians and police broke out Saturday, according to Egyptian website Bikyamasr.com, citing a medical source at a morgue near Tahrir Square, the center of the protests. At least 14 had died so far on Tuesday, the site said.
More than 2,000 people have been injured since Saturday.
The Egyptian military was hailed as heroes for its restraint in dealing with demonstrators who eventually forced Mubarak from power in February after 18 days of demonstrations. Since then, many groups have complained that the military has used many of the same repressive tactics that brought Mubarak into disfavor.
On Monday, the interim cabinet offered to resign in protests of the weekend crackdown. Military leaders have not confirmed whether the resignations were accepted, but they are reported to be looking for a new prime minister.
Culture minister Emad Abu Ghazi has already resigned.
Parliamentary elections are still scheduled for next week, but several political parties have threatened a boycott of the voting.
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