October 19, 2017

Both Egyptian and Syrian regimes use enforced disappearance against opposition

Human rights organizations recently reported that activists in Egypt have disappeared after they were stopped at government checkpoints. In Syria, the regime has disappeared thousands in the midst of its brutal civil war.

In this context, repressive states in the Middle East, as Egypt and Syria, have increasingly added the “disappearing” of regime opponents to their means of violence.

Enforced Disappearance is the state’s refusal to acknowledge that it is holding a person it has detained or to disclose the fate of that person.

Since 1980, the United Nations has documented more than 55,000 disappearances in 107 countries with the practice spreading across countries over time.

Regimes especially for under the watchful gaze of human rights organizations believe that disappearing opponents seem as an effective means to squash a threat to the regime and they also think that disappearing citizens would hide their repression.

However, this is not that simple. Regimes known to have inflicted disappearances, such as in Guatemala and El Salvador, flagrantly used overt forms of violence at the same time.

Moreover, countries also differ in how they use this tactic. Despite facing similar opposition to their 1970 military regimes, Argentina disappeared at least 10,000 citizens, while Uruguay disappeared only a few dozen.

But, in fact, “Why are some regimes willing and others unwilling to disappear opponents in carrying out violent repression?”

Jason Scheideman, a lecturer in politics and assistant dean at Bates College, wrote at the Washington post that his research showed that” states use disappearances — as opposed to other forms of repression — when they cannot “read” the nature of their opposition.””States use disappearances when they see their opponents as having wide but shallow support, making it difficult to identify who supports or might join the opposition. The regime are attempting not only to coerce a few activists but to broadly demobilize the opposition,”said Scheideman.

He added, “This is not just punishment for lawbreakers. It is intimidation of broad sectors of society to demobilize them.”

Scheideman said,”To achieve efficient and enduring intimidation, states apply the rationale of hostage-taking to coerce opponents. They disappear citizens to gain the family’s and acquaintances’ compliance with their demands.”

Just as in kidnapping, “the state holds coercive leverage by physically holding the victim, cutting off other avenues to free the victim except compliance — and having leverage as long as the victim is believed to be alive.”

Families often cannot accept that the victim is dead without proof. Uncertainty keeps the family’s hope alive, preserving the state’s coercive leverage over time.

“Because the family is left in the dark as to the victim’s fate, relatives tend to believe that the victim might be alive and could still suffer. They are reluctant to resist the state,” he said.

As a result, the family members of victims usually live in a culture of fear and avoid politics.

In this context, disappearance is efficient because one disappearance can frighten and oppress many opponents.

“It is enduring because the victim’s family and friends remain intimidated as long as the fate of the victim remains undisclosed,”according to Scheideman.

But the writer also pointed that sometimes” disappearances can backfire.”

He said that disappearances can increase resistance and draw attention to the state’s violence.

He said,”By targeting the family for intimidation, states can inadvertently mobilize stronger resistance against the state because of the shocking effects of the violence on families, changing the calculus of repression.”

Last year, the Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms ECRF, a non governmental rights group, released a report on enforced disappearance covering the period from the beginning of January 2016 to the end of June.

The Egyptian rights group said that it documented 1000 enforced disappearances cases in the first half of 2016, at a rate of 5 cases per day.

The (ECRF) has reported, “1000 cases of enforced disappearance of civilians by the security forces in the first half of 2016.”

It pointed that”232 citizens were subjected to enforced disappearance in January, 204 citizens in February, 184 citizens disappeared in March, 111 citizens disappeared in April, 201 in May, and 69 citizens disappeared in June, compared to 1873 cases of enforced disappearances in the whole year of 2015.”

The local rights group said, “several cases appeared later in custody but after a long period of time and others are killed, most of these accusations are denied by the Ministry of Interior.”

It added that it documented 2811 cases of enforced disappearances by the Egyptian security since July 3, 2013 (the date when Mohamed Morsi, the first democratically elected president, was ousted) till the end of last June.