Amil Khan, a former Reuters Middle East correspondent, writes:
For the best part of a decade, I had the opportunity to see how Mubarak misruled and brutalized his people. In the fertile Nile Delta, where plants can grow so green they seem fluorescent, I visited a village where a local wealthy landowner had pushed small farmers off their land with the help of hired thugs. The villagers had appealed to the police, but the local officer had been bought off. The police reacted in the way they had grown accustomed to a system in which there was no accountability for their actions — they assaulted the most vulnerable. Police troopers raided the village, burned crops, and stole belongings. When they realized that most of the men had fled in fear of mass arrest, they beat the children. The senior officer and the landowner had hoped the villagers would be bullied into submission. When the villagers organized themselves and chose a representative to seek help in Cairo from the judiciary and human rights groups, the troopers returned to the village to track him down. When they failed, they found his wife, ripped off her clothes, and paraded her naked through the village — a warning to others who defied the powers that be.
The wider world didn’t avoid seeing Mubarak’s incompetence and brutality simply because the excesses happened out of sight in the countryside. The outrages were ignored when they happened in central Cairo, too. On May 25, 2005, state security decided to escalate its use of hired thugs as a method of crowd control. Hundreds of young, largely secular left-wing activists gathered in central Cairo to protest for democratic reform. State-security forces penned in the protesters and then sent in the hired goons. In the scuffles, one of the thugs was captured by the activists. I heard him tell a group of activists and journalists that he had been in a police cell the night before for pickpocketing, but was released on the condition that he help police “rough up” people they had told him were “traitors.” Police officials, he said, promised him and the other prisoners a Coke and a Kentucky Fried Chicken meal deal as a reward.
The other thugs made straight for the female protesters and ripped off their clothes and sexually assaulted them as uniformed police officers watched from the sidelines. The fact that a U.S. ally was using sexual violence as a political weapon against secular “natural allies” of democracy a couple of days after the U.S. president’s wife visited the country and gave a speech on women’s rights was little reported abroad. The fact that the regime received little criticism for the tactic, probably convinced Mubarak that employing it was not only cheap but effective — which explains why his regime has resorted to it time and again.