On this very day, Aug 14 2023, we commemorate the sacrifice of those who paid with their lives to save the dream of millions of Egyptian, encapsuled in the slogan "Bread, Liberty, Social Justice" echoed throughout Tahrir square in January 2011. And with the departure of Hosni Mubarak, Egyptians were shaking the shackles and savouring the taste of freedom.
Tragically, on July 3 rd 2013, 9 p.m. Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi appeared on TV in a military beret to announce the constitution's suspension and the end of Mohamed Morsi's position, the first elected president, in a coup d'état that crushed a fledgling democracy and shattered the dream.
Over the course of the following two months, Mohamed Morsi's supporters, mainly but not exclusively from the Muslim Brotherhood Party organized two large sit-ins, Raba'a square in Nasr City and El-Nahda square in Guizeh as well as smaller protests across Egypt to denounce the military takeover and demand the reinstatement of Morsi.
In response, on August 14, 2013 police and army forces opened fire on demonstrators, killing over 1,150, most of them in five separate incidents of mass protester killings. The exact numbers of victims will never be known as many people remain uncounted for.
Human Rights Watch's one-year investigation into the conduct of security forces in responding to these demonstrations indicates that police and army forces systematically and intentionally used excessive lethal force in their policing, resulting in killings of protesters on a scale unprecedented in Egypt.
The evidence HRW examined includes on-site investigations at each of the protest sites during or immediately after the attacks were underway, interviews with over 200 witnesses, including protesters, doctors, journalists, and local residents, and review of physical evidence, hours of video footage, and statements by public officials.
On this basis, Human Rights Watch concluded that the killings not only constituted serious violations of international human rights law, but likely amounted to crimes against humanity, given both their widespread and systematic nature and the evidence suggesting the killings were part of a policy to attack unarmed persons on political grounds.
While there is also evidence that some protesters used firearms during several of these demonstrations, Human Rights Watch was able to confirm their use in only a few instances, which do not justify the grossly disproportionate and premeditated lethal attacks on overwhelmingly peaceful protesters.
Up till this day, security forces continue to deny any wrongdoing, and authorities have failed to hold a single police or army officer accountable for any of the unlawful killings.
Those who survived are still languishing in prison after bogus trials, life long sentences in horrendous conditions. Hundreds were sentenced to death.
Amnesty Internal estimates that about 60,000 political prisoners have been kept under lock since El-Sisi took over.
Those who fled El-Sisi's government's henchmen constitute one of the largest politically driven outward migration waves in Egypt's recent history. According to official government figures and estimates published in recent years, between 9 and 14 million Egyptians live abroad. Of these, tens of thousands have been living in exile to avoid repression at home, according to estimates by media and human rights reports.
To compound their predicament, the Egyptian authorities in recent years have systematically refused to provide or renew the identity documents.
The inability to obtain birth certificates or renew essential documents such as passports and ID cards has hampered access to basic rights for dissidents abroad and their dependent family members. It has effectively undermined their ability to travel, live, and work legally and sometimes jeopardized their ability to obtain essential medical care and educational services or reunite with other family members.
We salute all of these victims, those who paid with their lives and those who are deprived of their freedom because they had a dream for a better Egypt. Our promise to you is that we will keep the dream alive in whatever ways we can. And we hope all those who value freedom will join us.