The video that circulated on Egyptian blogs this winter showed Emad Mohamed Ali Mohamed, a 21-year-old bus driver, lying on the floor stripped naked from the waist down–his hands bound behind his back and his legs held in the air. He screams and begs as he is sodomized with a stick while those around him, whose faces are not visible to us, taunt him.
Hours earlier, Ali Mohamed (known among friends as Emad al-Kabir) had been picked up by two plainclothes police officers in Bulaq al-Daqrur, a roughish slum in Giza, across the river from downtown Cairo’s crumbling Europeanate area. The young man’s offense was venturing to break up a scuffle between police officers and his cousin. Despite the inhospitable treatment he endured, al-Kabir was released thirty-six hours later with no charges to speak of. After all, torture of this variety is commonplace. Protesting its manifestations, or questioning the logic behind it, is usually met with a shrug, even contemptuous indifference.
And so, when it was announced in late December that the two police officers who had supervised the abuse, Capt. Islam Nabih and Cpl. Reda Fathi, had been detained and their case transferred to a criminal court for investigation, it seemed that something had changed. With the simple act of uploading the video to a blog, a web impresario known as Demagh MAK had unleashed a storm of attention both at home and abroad around the case of the diminutive, soft-spoken bus driver. A link to the video, passed around among activists and journalists and posted on YouTube (until it was removed for graphic content), was finally picked up by the more intrepid Egyptian independent papers as well as Arab satellite channels such as Al Jazeera and Dream TV. Even a handful of jihadi websites chimed in, fuming about the excesses of the infidel Egyptian regime. Within days, the video had taken on a life of its own.
Watching the revelations unfold, one couldn’t help but think there was more to come. Sure enough, before long another leak–also spread via blogs–revealed a man (later identified as Ahmed Gad) receiving sharp slaps to the face from a belligerent officer. And then came the jarring image of a young woman, ostensibly a murder suspect, pleading for mercy while suspended from a stick held across two chairs, in what seemed a throwback to a medieval interrogation method. Whoever was behind the camera, presumably a police officer, seemed to relish the ability to capture the scene: As the woman screams “Please, ya basha!” (a sign of prostration) over and over, the camera moves in and out, making use, with abandon, of the zoom function.
Indeed, this may be just the beginning. Wael Abbas, a Cairo-based blogger who was among the first to post the torture videos, has received nearly a dozen additional videos since the beginning of December. Most have been forwarded anonymously, and most, like al-Kabir’s, were captured with simple cellphone cameras.