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EGYPT: Insider how-to on avoiding police abuse

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A former Egyptian cop who recently wrote a book on how to survive police abuse is on the lam himself. Omar Afifi fled to the U.S. after penning an insider’s guide on how to avoid bumps, bruises and false allegations when encountering police in a country with a poor human-rights record.

“I heard from some former colleagues that a decision had already been taken by authorities to get rid of me and my book. They even advised me to leave the country,’ Afifi said in a phone interview from California, where he fled shortly after the release of his book.

Afifi said the warning was preceded by a ban of his book from all bookstores and newspaper stands. But before the ban, the book (whose title translates roughly to “So You Don’t Get Hit on the Back of Your Head”) had sold thousands of copies. The title resonates with many Egyptians, who believe that whoever sets foot in a police station gets smacked on the nape of the neck.

“The police violate human rights in a systemic manner in order to terrify the people and prevent them from claiming their basic rights and their usurped political rights,” said Afifi, who served in several departments at the interior ministry until he retired in 2003. He added that, as far as torture is concerned, ‘what happens in reality is much more serious than what gets disclosed to the public.’

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The book serves as a handbook of a citizen’s rights in cases of detention, arrest and interrogation. It delves into tactics police might use, such as torture, backmail, detention without trial and illegal arrest.

“The violations perpetrated by the police depend primarily on people’s ignorance about their legal rights,’ so the interior ministry thinks that ‘this book can halt their work,” said Afifi. “The book departs from the complicated legal jargon using a simple language that any citizen can understand, especially the poor, who are the most exposed to police violations.’

Since it first came out in March 2008, the book’s satirical title has attracted many readers. The book has spread on the Internet, which Afifi calls society’s only “safety valve.”

“The Internet is a very important weapon,’ he said, and the regime has ‘discovered its significance and tries to control it in order to terrify the youth, who are expected to lead change in Egypt, but they will not be able to control it.”

In his self-exile, the 45-year-old former policeman is currently working on the second part of his book, which he will give the title “So You Don’t Get Hit on the Back of Your Head Twice.” The new volume, said the author, ‘will be about political rights and people’s rights to demonstrate and to go on strike, rights that are all enshrined in the constitution.”

—Noha El-Hennawy in Cairo


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