Against Torture and Sexist Violence

Since its founding in 1993, the Nadim Center has documented cases of torture in Egypt and offers help to victims and surviving dependants. At the same time it has become a refuge for female victims of domestic violence. By Martina Sabra

Since its founding in 1993, the "Nadim Center" in Cairo has documented cases of torture in Egypt and offers help to victims and surviving dependants. At the same time NADIM has become a refuge for female victims of domestic violence. Martina Sabra reports

Prisoner in Egypt's Ebaa prison (photo: dpa)
Torture in Egyptian police stations is not an exception, but a part of the system, according to Magda Adly of NADIM

​​A seemingly harmless quarrel became fatal for nineteen-year-old Ahmed Mahmoud Tammam of Cairo. His angry neighbor wanted revenge and asked a police friend to have the young man arrested. Before the eyes of his sister and his parents, the upright young man was brutally dragged from their apartment and hauled to a nearby police station.

Two days later Ahmed Tammam was dead. The police report states: "Suicide during the transport." But the autopsy showed heavy brain hemorrhaging and burn injuries in the genital area resulting from electroshocks. Ahmed Mahmoud Tammam was tortured to death.

The officers responsible for his death threatened the family to deter them from reporting the case. But the father refused to let up. Despite their tremendous efforts to intimidate him, he filed charges and finally turned to the Nadim Center for Victims of Torture.

"This was one of the cases that really upset me," relates Magda Adly, an anesthesiologist at a state-run hospital who also works as a volunteer at "Nadim" to help people who have suffered from torture and sexist violence.

"We helped the family take the case to court. At least there was a verdict of guilt and a sentence." But the police officer responsible got away with one year in prison. "In reality, it was only nine months, and then he was promoted to head of the department," added Suzanne Fayad, director of the clinic at Nadim Center.

Many see torture as a trifle

Around 150 victims of torture and their family members received support last year from the Nadim Center. The small organization located in the bustling center of Cairo runs a counseling center as well as its own psychological and medical clinic. The center recorded forty deaths as a result of torture from June 2004 to June 2005.

The workers at "Nadim" cannot say whether torture in Egypt is on the rise. "What we know is that nowadays victims and their family members are more willing to report police cruelty," explained Magda Adly.

"The taboo has in part been broken, and this is not least of all a result of our work. But there are still too many people in Egypt who regard torture as a trifle, and who assume that the victims must have done something. Otherwise they would not have been so mistreated."

Reading the reports of Egyptian and international human rights organizations makes it very clear: Torture is a daily occurrence in Egypt's police stations. For Magda Adly, it is part of the dictatorial ruling system which relies on citizens' fear of state authority.

"We are not dealing with isolated cases here, or with the excesses of a particularly aggressive officer," explains the fifty-year-old woman. "From Assuan in the south to Alexandria in the north – everywhere the same methods and the same arbitrariness prevail."

More women are becoming victims

Women under the victims are still in the minority, but their numbers are increasing, and they are quite frequently threatened with sexualized violence. "Torture always has a sexual component; men are also affected by it," explains Aida Saif Al Dawla, professor of psychology and co-founder of NADIM. "But women are often specifically humiliated because of their sex."

The Nadim center works not only directly with victims of torture but also with the family members of political prisoners. "In Egypt thousands have been imprisoned on the suspicion of being involved with Islamist terrorism," says Aida Saif Al Dawla. "Some of them were arrested in the early 1990s as young men and still have not been charged of anything."

In addition to the rehabilitating victims of torture, NADIM has acquired another field of work in the past few years: providing help for beaten and sexually abused women and girls. "Although we focus primarily on victims of torture, from the beginning many female victims of sexist violence came to us," explains Aida Saif Al-Dawla.

A field study conducted by NADIM shows that nearly every second married women in Egypt has experienced domestic violence at least once. Meanwhile NADIM is in the process of training female counselors and is helping regional women's initiatives in different provinces and cities of Egypt to set up their own counseling centers.

In addition, the Nadim Center has launched a national campaign to criminalize domestic violence in Egypt. "In Egypt physical assault or insult is an offence," explains Magda Adly. "But when a man beats his wife, religious laws come into effect. And according to Islamic laws in Egypt a man may "discipline" his wife, if necessary, with physical blows.

Networking as resistance

NADIM and an alliance of women's and human rights organizations are now demanding legislation that would criminalize violence and provide more protection for endangered wives and their children.

The Nadim team is a thorn in the side of the Egyptian authorities because of its engagement for political prisoners, its call for democratic reforms, and its lobby work against patriarchal laws.

In the summer of 2004 alleged employees of the health authorities confiscated patient files during a surprise "inspection" and threatened to close the center because it was reportedly pursuing not only "medical" goals.

NADIM is striving to encounter such reprisals with intensive regional and international networking. In Egypt itself NADIM works closely together with the Hisham Mubarak Center for Human Rights and is in the process of establishing an anti-torture committee.

The organization is also a part of the Arab-North African anti-torture network "AMAN," has an observer status at the United Nations, and cooperates closely with international human rights organizations.

Martina Sabra

© 2005

Translation from German: Nancy Joyce

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