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CAIRO, Nov 27 2012 (IPS) - Three people have been killed, more than 400 wounded and over 200 arrested as clashes between Egyptians protesting President Muhammad Morsi’s attempt to expand his presidential powers and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and Egyptian security forces continue to rock the capital and enflame major cities around the country.
Brotherhood supporter Islam Fathy, 15, was killed on Sunday in Egypt’s northern city Damanhour when a rock was thrown at his head. Jaber Salah, 17, a member of the anti-Mubarak April 6 movement, died in Cairo the same day after being shot in the head with birdshot by members of Egypt’s notorious Central Security Forces (CSF).
On Monday Ahmed Naguib Mohamed Ali, 18, succumbed to gunshot wounds after he was shot in the chest on Sunday by CSF members. Angry protestors have accused the CSF of excessive force in quashing protests.
Egyptian security forces have long been renowned for their brutality against protestors with reports from various local and international human rights organisations listing the abuses over the decades. But CSF conscripts are themselves victims of abuse and violence.
While there have been regular protests in the Egyptian capital since last year’s revolution, in May this year the streets of a Cairo suburb were blocked off by rioting of a different kind when angry protestors shouting anti-police slogans fought with Egyptian soldiers.
However, this particular demonstration was by members of the notorious CSF paramilitary units comprising more than 300,000 conscripts whose primary job is to suppress protests.
The CSF conscripts were rioting against the beating to death of one of their colleagues by superior officers. For two hours the soldiers blocked traffic in the Obour suburb of Cairo until the army was called in to disperse the rioters.
All Egyptian males, with the exception of only sons, are required to do three years compulsory military service. CSF conscripts are young Egyptian men from poor, rural backgrounds. They are separated from their more educated compatriots, and those with a trade at the beginning of their national service, with the latter joining the regular army.
“CSF recruits are treated very badly by the system. They are paid less than 40 dollars a month. They are given little food, and work extremely long hours without a break. They are also regarded as expendable by their commanders,” Sherif Etman from The Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights tells IPS.
“Their lives are regularly placed in danger when they are sent to the Sinai to battle superior armed Islamist militants. Their inferior weaponry makes them very vulnerable,” says Etman whose organisation is working to improve training for the security services and their relationship with the public. Several months ago 16 Egyptian security force members were killed by militants in the Sinai.
Ahmed, 20, from Luxor in southern Egypt, is a member of the CSF and wouldn’t give his family name. He spends many long and boring days and nights guarding banks in the upscale Cairo suburb Maadi, inhabited by wealthy, educated Egyptians and expatriates.
“We are on duty for 12 hours straight without any break. We work for 20 days and then get seven days off to see our families. It gets very boring and tiring. In summer it is very hot and in winter sometimes we get cold as we don’t have enough warm clothing, just the uniform,” Ahmed tells IPS.
“The food is not good and sometimes there isn’t enough. We get fava beans, bread, cheese and tea mostly. Many of the locals look down on us. Some of our officers treat us badly but others are ok. It is not something I can really talk to you about as I could get into trouble as we are not allowed to complain about how we are treated,” Ahmed adds.
The May protest was not the first rebellion against the authorities by CSF conscripts. Neither was the death of their comrade the first case of a conscript being killed by superiors.
During the 2011 January revolution several CSF members took off their uniforms to escape hostile protestors who had turned on them following the violence with which they had dealt with the protestors. In turn, due to the perception of brutal treatment from their own superiors, some of the men then put on civilian clothing and joined the protests.
In May the same year, some 1,000 conscripts at another camp protested conditions, demanding that drills be lessened, periods of rest increased and that outstanding bonuses be paid. Conscripts in a camp in Alexandria protested in July after an officer attacked a conscript.
In 2008, 600 soldiers broke windows inside a base and destroyed an officer’s room in protest at their treatment by superiors. But the worst incident of rebellion took place in February 1986 when hundreds of CSF paramilitary police in Giza in Cairo rioted for two days before army troops were called in.
Before it was quashed the rebellion had spread to six other governorates and resulted in Cairo being placed under curfew. During the protests at least a hundred conscripts were killed according to several sources with government officials refusing to divulge the exact statistics. (END)
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