Hamada Saber: The Melodrama that Overshadowed Deadly Torture

Hamada Saber’s beating by the police captured on live TV, his subsequent denial of the police’s wrongdoing, and consequent confirmation of the incident provided rich material for the ongoing news melodrama. The unfolding story has embodied many of the social and governmental ailments plaguing Egypt, chief among them a fixation on the televised at the expense of the more serious violations not caught on camera.

First, his denial to state TV reminded many that the repressive regime they revolted against two years ago is alive and kicking. Giving in to pressure to deny his own humiliation was more painful to watch than the beating itself. The TV pleas of his family members for him to stick to the truth extended and dramatized the event.

The authorities’ assumption that people would believe his denial was foolish but not unfounded. For the past two years, we’ve been told to deny what we’ve seen and experienced firsthand in favor of the authorities’ invented version of events. In October 2011, one army general used footage of an APC running over people to prove to his audience that the vehicle was avoiding the crowds. Many believed him because they needed the excuse not to get angry and act on the impulse to campaign for justice. It continues to be case.

Saber’s denial and the Ministry of Interior’s scenario gave the president’s supporters a story that would exonerate Mohamed Mursi. When that failed, officials and their believers switched to stressing that this was an isolated incident – another tactic that ignores continuous reports of systematic torture by the security forces.

Saber’s story also highlighted the long-ignored complicity of the prosecution office in covering up crimes committed by the police. It was the head of the Heliopolis prosecution office that first released the statement affirming Saber’s denial of his televised abuse. It was only after Saber’s retraction and the increasing absurdity of the story that the prosecution announced more genuine steps to investigate the incident.

While this could be viewed as a positive development in the story, it’s in fact another debacle. A few meters away from where Saber was beaten, Mohamed Qorany “Christy” was shot dead on the same night. No investigation was opened and no valiant statements were made.

During the same week, activist Mohamed El-Gindy died of injuries believed to be sustained while in police custody. Lawyer Mohamed Abdel-Aziz filed a report detailing the torture marks and the discrepancy in hospital papers indicating another cover up.

It’s not the only case.

In the course of the clashes that started on the second anniversary of the 25 January uprising, at least 65 minors were arrested. One man told me about the open head wounds his 17-year-old brother’s endured. He was unable to reach him in detention or provide him with medical treatment and was running around prosecution offices trying to figure out where his brother would be questioned. A 14-year-old cancer patient was denied release despite doctors’ advice. Other children recount horrific tales of torture by the police after they were arrested during clashes.

Meanwhile, the authorities try to keep the focus on Saber’s case and its melodramatic developments. It stresses that it was an isolated incident as if anything not caught on camera didn’t happen.

Comments

Translation error: "The authorities’ assumption that people would believe his denial was foolish but not unfounded" - should read "foolish but not unprecedented."

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