Too many to count
Amr was on his way to buy groceries from the supermarket when he disappeared.
“We tried calling him for hours, and then eventually his phone was switched off,” says Amr’s brother Ramy, 23.
Ramy recounts that he later learned his brother, a 29-year-old accountant, was passing by a Muslim Brotherhood protest in his Cairo neighborhood of Nasr City when he was arrested on January 18 2014.
Within hours, Amr had been charged with participating in a protest and of belonging to an illegal organization. A few days later, he was charged with resisting the authorities.
Today, Amr remains in detention. Ramy says that his brother is neither a member of the Muslim Brotherhood nor politically active.
Amr’s case illustrates the haphazard nature of the state’s campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood, the group which until July of last year was governing Egypt.
The state's primary weapon against the Brotherhood’s rank and file has been mass detentions. It has proven impossible to obtain the exact number of detainees. Rights groups say that in addition to the difficulty of identifying whether every individual targeted is a Brotherhood member, the sheer scale of the arrests makes it difficult for them to keep up.
Nabil Shalaby, a lawyer with the governmental National Council for Human Rights (NCHR), says that the NCHR is not keeping a record of detentions.
Wiki Thawra, an initiative created by Egyptian Center for Social and Economic Rights (ECSER), which documents all those detained, arrested and killed since the January 25 uprising, has claimed that between June 30 and December 31 over 21,317 people have been detained, including over 330 minors.
Most of their information is sourced from reports by the ECSER itself, as well as other human rights organizations, journalists and official government statements.
Mohamed al-Damaty, a lawyer who is defending Brotherhood detainees, estimates on the basis of the cases he and his colleagues are involved in that 15,000 people — either members of the Brotherhood or sympathetic to their cause — have been arrested since July.
A rough survey of reports in the media detailing arrests and detentions gives an idea of both the scale of the arrests and the variety of charges involved, which run from the banal to the bizarre.
During the constitutional referendum in mid-January, 444 Muslim Brothers were arrested for attempting to disrupt the vote and “influence voters.”
One report from September 2013 describes the detention of 18 unnamed protesters arrested for a truly staggering array of crimes: Murder, attempted murder, possession of knives, firearms and Molotov cocktails, thuggery, vandalism of public property, illegal assembly, blocking traffic and attempting to break into police buildings.
And then there are the bizarre cases. A schoolboy was held in detention for 30 days because he brought a ruler bearing a picture of the four finger salute that has come to represent the Rabea al-Adaweya sit-in to school with him. His father and two teachers were then arrested for “inciting” the child to possess the ruler.
A 20-year-old woman was arrested in Alexandria for possessing a diary in which she wrote statements that were “hostile to the army, the police and the current regime.” In October, a young man was arrested for selling Rabea badges on Alexandria’s Corniche. A bewildered-looking 12-year-old boy was arrested in North Sinai for allegedly spying on monitoring patrols and “attempting to detonate a bomb” — his photograph was plastered all over the official Facebook page of the Armed Forces spokesperson.
Wiki Thawra estimates that 83 people have been arrested for using certain political slogans since June 30.
The accusation of belonging to an illegal organization has even been levied against individuals known for their active opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Activist Nazly Hussein was arrested with 20 other protesters last Saturday during a march in Maadi on the third anniversary of the January 25 uprising. On January 27, she was given 15 days detention pending investigations into whether she has links to the Brotherhood.
Hussein is a well-known activist from the No to Military Trials Campaign established in 2011, and has battled against all successive governments, including that of the Brotherhood, since the 2011 uprising. She and eight of her fellow protesters were ultimately released on January 27, though 16 others stayed in detention due to the alleged ties to the Brotherhood.