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February 19, 2016

Egypt Orders Closure of Torture Rehabilitation Center

By Leah Schulz

Egypt’s campaign against civil society intensified on Tuesday when the government ordered the closure of the El Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence for “breaching license conditions.”

Since 1993 the center has provided psychological management and medical rehabilitation for victims of torture. According to local reports, three weeks ago an official from Egypt’s ministry of health, unannounced, inspected the center and left with no comments or warnings of violations. The next time a representative from the health ministry returned (along with two policemen and a district engineer), they had a document signed by the director of the private health sector ordering the shutdown.

Forced closure of civil society organizations is now a common occurrence in Egypt. In the month prior to the anniversary of the January 25th protests, authorities closed the respected Townhouse art gallery and Merit publishing house. But closing the El Nadeem Center is not only another nail in the coffin for Egypt’s civil society—it is an ominous symbol of the state’s unchecked security apparatus. 

As Human Rights First details in its latest Egypt blueprint, state security forces, including the National Security Agency and Military Intelligence, regularly torture those in custody and are increasingly “disappearing” dissenting citizens. The order to close the El Nadeem Center comes in the wake of the torture and murder of Italian PhD student Giulio Regeni in Cairo. Media outlets, citing eyewitnesses and security officials, report that Regeni, who disappeared on January 25, was detained by security forces before his burned and mutilated body was discovered. Egyptian officials vehemently deny such claims while delaying requests for footage from shopkeepers that could explain the circumstances of his disappearance.

The El Nadeem Center treats the wounds of those who survived ordeals similar to Regeni’s. It is a necessary and rare source of refuge in a country whose government relies on the use of force. In addition to providing medical and psychological care, the center provides legal guidance and resources. Closing it eliminates one of the few venues Egyptians have to remedy state injustices. For these reasons, El Nadeem’s director Aida Seif El Dawla aptly describes the closure order as “an organized attack by the security apparatus against rights and freedoms in Egypt.”

But as Egypt’s repression of human rights groups increases, so does the U.S. tolerance for its ally’s behavior. The budget proposal the Obama Administration released on February 8 erases restrictions Congress placed on military and police aid to Egypt. Under current law, 15 percent of the aid to Egypt is subject to withholding based on human rights conditions. The condition can be waived if it is deemed to be in the national security interest of the United States, as was the case in 2015. However, the State Department is required to justify its waiver and report on the state of the country. Removing this reporting requirement eliminates one of the last few checks on military aid put in place as a reaction to the Arab Spring protests.

Last year’s State Department assessment lamented that except in rare instances, “police and security forces have not been held accountable for alleged human rights violations.” This lack of accountability emboldens them to carry out such organized attacks on those documenting its crimes. It becomes even easier when the United States stops documenting the same abuses from afar.