Thursday, 17 February 2011

Military spokesman and torture allegations

The spokesman for Egypt's ruling military council, Major General Ismail Etman, was questioned at length by telephone on the state-owned satellite channel al-Masriya on Thursday night. The encouraging aspect was that the questioner (whose name I didn't catch) challenged him firmly on Amnesty International allegations that military personnel tortured protesters to intimidate them and to obtain information about plans for the protests. Etman, the man who reads the council's statements on television, responded however in a style reminiscent of the old Interior Ministry. Instead of saying that the allegations were very serious and that the armed forces would make a thorough investigation of the details, Etman said they could not possibly be true because military personnel did not engage in such activities. He then challenged anyone to produce evidence for such allegations, as if such evidence was not already available, even if not yet fully established. The overall impression was one of denial and evasion. He did promise that the armed forces would look into the cases of people who are still missing from the 18 days of protest which brought down President Hosni Mubarak, but even on this point his answer was formulaic rather than urgent. A few weeks ago a state television station would probably not even have brought up the allegations in the first place, but Etman's performance did suggest that old-style attitudes are still well entrenched in the military-security establishment. The youth movement has asked the military council to improve its media discourse and come forward to explain its policies to the public.

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