Sudan was outraged by the arrest, abuse and killing of Sudanese nationals in Egypt over the past few weeks, with a slew of social media campaigns, diplomatic statements and newspaper articles castigating the Egyptian authorities for what they say is a systematic campaign against them.
The Sudanese Embassy in Cairo sent a letter to Egypt’s Foreign Affairs Ministry on Friday decrying security campaigns targeting Sudanese nationals in Egypt, who they say are increasingly subjected to searches and detention. The embassy accused Egyptian security forces of mistreating its nationals, and noted that the ministry had not responded to an earlier letter on the matter sent at the beginning of the month.
Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Ahmed Abu Zeid told a Sudanese newspaper on Monday that officials are looking into the embassy’s complaint, but he denied that Sudanese nationals in Egypt were being systematically targeted.
The Sudanese citizens who were arrested recently were suspected of illegally trading currency, Abu Zeid claimed, and were arrested alongside people of several other nationalities, including Egyptians.
Yehia Zakareya, a 50-year-old Sudanese man who was arrested after bringing his son to Egypt for surgery, gave an account of his arrest on Facebook that circulated widely online and enraged the Sudanese public.
Zakareya said he was arrested with another Sudanese man as they were leaving a currency exchange office in downtown Cairo’s Talaat Harb Square. He said they were taken to the Abdeen police station, where they were assaulted and tortured. Police also allegedly confiscated the US$500 Zakareya was carrying to pay for his son’s operation.
In pictures attached to his testimony, Zakareya appears to have bloodied eyes and bruises and burn marks on his arms and legs.
Zakareya said that he was then taken to the prosecutor, who ordered his release the next day and the return of his money. But instead, Zakareya was taken back to the police station pending national security checks. He said for the next three days security forces continued to torture him, burning him with cigarettes and beating him with their boots.
He was eventually escorted to the airport, then flew back to Sudan after contacting family members to attend to his ill son in Cairo.
Social media campaigns were launched calling for Egyptians to be expelled from Sudan and a general boycott of Egyptian products. Social media users criticized the lack of a serious official response, and exhorted all Sudanese people to stand up for their dignity.
The Sudanese Al-Jareeda newspaper reported that the Sudanese parliament is waiting for Egyptian officials to comment on the arrest of hundreds of Sudanese nationals in the last few weeks, but all options are currently open in terms of the measures Sudanese authorities could take in response.
Ahmed Badawy, who works with the Egyptian Foundation for Refugee Rights, told Mada Masr that the surge in inspection campaigns targeting refugees and other foreigners started last month, ahead of the parliamentary elections.
The violations mostly target Sudanese people on tourist visas, rather than refugees registered with the United Nations, he said.
Mohamed Abdel Latif, a field researcher for the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, confirmed that the crackdown mainly targets un-registered visitors who do not have protection and support from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
“Many of the arrests and the detentions of Sudanese people are associated with their attempt to cross the Mediterranean,” he said. Abdel Latif has documented several cases of migrants and refugees who were intercepted by police while attempting to leave the country, and were accused of belonging to smuggling networks.
In 2005, Egyptian security forces killed dozens of Sudanese refugees while violently dispersing a sit-in they were holding in Mostafa Mahmoud Square, where they had protested the government’s order to deport them back to Sudan.
Since then, a wave of Sudanese migrants and refugees have attempted to flee to Israel via Sinai. Many people trying to cross the border have been shot or detained by Egyptian guards.
When Egyptian police forces shot 15 Sudanese people dead at the Egypt-Israel border earlier this week, outrage in Sudan mounted even further.
The number of Sudanese people attempting to cross the Sinai border has dropped recently, however, due to rising violence in the peninsula after the Armed Forces declared war against militant groups there.