The fate of the forcibly disappeared is not on the agenda of the national dialogue in Egypt

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In late April, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi called for an extensive national dialogue to solve the country’s problems.

Although there are many indications that this dialogue is formal to distract the severe economic crisis afflicting the country, the opposition dealt with it positively, hoping that it would result in a long-awaited political breakthrough.

Over the past two months, many issues that should be discussed by the national dialogue, which will launch in early July, have been raised, including the political detainees, rights and freedoms, and economic conditions. But one problem has been absent from the agenda of this dialogue, which is the issue of the “forcibly disappearing” since the military coup led by al-Sisi in July 2013, whose number is estimated at thousands.

A crime against humanity

Enforced disappearance is defined as “the arrest, detention, abduction or other deprivation of liberty by officials of different branches or levels of government, an organized group, or private individuals acting on behalf of or with the support of the government, directly or indirectly, or with its consent or acceptance, and then refusing to disclose the fate of the place of the persons concerned or refusing to acknowledge the deprivation of their liberty, thus depriving these persons of the protection of the law.”

Enforced disappearances are frequently used as a strategic method of instilling terror within society. The sense of insecurity that this practice generates is not limited to the relatives of the disappeared but also affects the local population and community. Both the Rome Statute and International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance state that enforced disappearance is a crime against humanity when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack against any civilian population and is therefore not subject to the statute of prescription. In addition, the victims’ families have the right to seek compensation and demand the truth in connection with the disappearance of their loved ones.

Although the Egyptian constitution does not explicitly criminalize enforced disappearance, this is the understanding of its texts, as Article 54 of it states that “personal freedom is a natural right, and it is inviolable, and except in the case of flagrant misdemeanour, no one may be arrested, searched, or imprisoned, or restricting his freedom in any way except by a reasoned judicial order required by the investigation. Anyone whose freedom is restricted must be immediately informed of the reasons for it, be informed of his rights by writing, be able to contact his family and lawyer immediately, and be submitted to the investigation authority within twenty-four hours from the time of restricting his freedom.” Article 55 stipulates that “Anyone who is arrested, imprisoned, or has his freedom restricted must be treated in a manner that preserves his dignity, and cannot be tortured, intimidated, coerced or harmed physically or mentally, and his detention or imprisonment may only take place in places designated for that purpose which are humane and healthy”.

Hundreds in oblivion

In late December 2017, the security forces arrested the child Abdullah Boumediene, who is only 12 years old, from his mother’s home in the city of Al-Arish in North Sinai Governorate. The arrest is believed to be related to his older brother, who joined ISIS’s “Sinai Province”. Security men forcibly disappeared Abdullah for more than six months before he appeared at the Azbakeya police station in Cairo in July 2018 to reveal to his lawyers that he was detained in several security facilities in North Sinai, including the National Security headquarters in Al-Arish and the military base of the 101st Battalion, and that the security men tortured him horrifically, including beatings, electrocutions, waterboarding, deprivation of adequate food and bathing, and threatened to torture his mother if he did not reveal information about his brother to them.

Abdullah continued to be detained and subjected to various violations until, on December 27, 2018, a court order was issued to release him and give him to his relatives. But 14 days after issuing the court order, the authorities transferred the boy to a second police station in al-Arish, but did not release him as promised by his family and instead forcibly disappeared him again. Since then and until now (3 and a half years), Boumediene is still forcibly disappeared, and no one knows his whereabouts except the security services. The child Boumediene is not an individual case but a name among a long list of words that includes hundreds, including well-known people such as the former parliamentarian Mustafa al-Najjar, who has been forcibly disappeared since September 2018, and businessman Ashraf Shehata. He was kidnapped by security men in front of his workplace in January 2014, without a trace since then until now, despite his family’s desperate attempts to determine his fate.

There is no comprehensive inventory of the number of forcibly disappeared since 2013 until now, as the list changes and some of the disappeared appear from time to time. Still, according to the documentation of human rights organizations, thousands of citizens have fallen victim to this crime. Hundreds have disappeared for years, leaving behind bereaved families constantly living in sadness and anxiety without anyone giving them an answer. The responsibility to demand disclosure of the fate of those forcibly disappeared rests with the opposition. This issue should be put firmly at the top of the “national dialogue” agenda, even if it is a caricatural dialogue to embellish the regime. The regime must know that the opposition will never take the right of those invisible to the world and the right of their families to know their fate lightly.