Dr. Aida Seif El Dawla – Egyptian activist against torture and violence

57-year-old Dr. Seif El Dawla is Professor of Psychiatry at Ain Shams University. For over three decades, she has been fighting for women's rights and against torture and violence in Egypt.

Her biggest accomplishment to date is founding the El Nadim Center for the Psychological Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence. The organization provides support to all victims of torture and violence. It also enables her and her team of women volunteers to raise awareness of the crimes and to bring those responsible to justice.

Biography

Born in 1954 into a politically active family, El Dawla became a political activist herself while at university in the 1970s. It was the beginning of her fight against injustice and human rights abuses, leading to the foundation of the New Woman Research Center in 1984.

El Dawla has since been a leading defender of women’s rights, combating female genital mutilation and violence against women.

As a psychiatrist, she and some of her colleagues started to document abuses and torture committed by Egyptian police. In 1993, they established the El Nadim Center for the Psychological Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence. The center provides psychological, medical and legal support to torture victims and their families, but also to women subject to any kind of violence.

Besides combating torture and other human rights abuses, El Dawla has continuously expressed her political opinions openly, denouncing Egypt’s police and challenging former President Mubarak and his regime. This meant participating in protests, going on a one-week hunger strike in 1999 and protesting in the streets again in January 2011??5th. As a member of the Egyptian Front for Defence Defense of Egypt Protesters, she documented the abuses committed by police and army during and after the 18-day revolution.

As a result of her courageous work in the fight against human rights abuses in Egypt, El Dawla received the second UNIFEM Award in 2001, Human Rights Watch’s highest recognition in 2003, was one of four nominees for the position of UN Special Rapporteur on Torture in 2010 and is one of two recipients of the 2011 Alkarama Award.

Situation

Egypt was ruled by an autocratic, oppressive and corrupt regime for the last 30 years, until former President Mubarak was forced to step down on February 11, 2011. Laws were enforced by the violent Egyptian police and army, with harassment and torture of political detainees and their families a regular and common practice. Egyptian security forces would carry out torture and abuses with impunity; either no investigation took place following the crimes, or, if convicted, the guilty party would not face any meaningful penalties.

The murder of Khaled Said is a famous case that sparked the Egyptian revolution. In 2010, the 28-year-old businessman from Alexandria was beaten to death by two policemen for filming them allegedly sharing the spoils of a drug bust. Recent events show that brutality and torture are still continuing under the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). A 24-year-old man, sentenced by a military court to two years in prison for illegally occupying an apartment, died after being tortured by prison officials for smuggling a mobile SIM card into the prison.

El Dawla started her human rights activism in a period of violence toward young people, and women in particular. In a society characterized by strong patriarchal, religious and traditional values, these groups were deprived of their most basic freedoms. For example, an estimated 97 % of married Egyptian women between 15 and 45 years were victims of genital mutilation in the early 1990s. Even after the revolution, the situation regarding women’s rights has not improved. On International Women’s Day on March 8, women gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square to demand more freedoms in public and private life, an end to sexual harassment and a voice in the country’s post-revolution development. During the uprisings, these women had demonstrated against the former regime side by side with Egyptian men. But now more than 200 men forced some of the women to the ground or dragged them out of the crowd and sexually harassed them, while police and the military watched the events without intervening.

Achievements

El Dawla is one of the leading human rights activists in Egypt, having helped shaped the country’s human rights movement for more than 30 years. She was one of the first activists to break the silence and report on the use of violence and torture in her country. Her courageous efforts, under the risk of harassment, torture and even death, have made the El Nadim Center for the Psychological Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence a special and unique organization in Egypt. It provides real help to victims of torture and violence, regardless of their nationality, gender or religion. El Nadim Center has even gone one step further by issuing reports on torture cases and working with lawyers, in particular the Hisham Mubarak Law Center, in order to prosecute those responsible.

El Dawla also became involved in the 18-day revolution through the case of Khaled Said, whose family was supported by El Nadim Center. The Center also continuously monitored and reported cases of torture and violence during the uprisings.

El Dawla’s outstanding political and human rights activism is reflected in her membership in numerous other NGOs, many of which she helped found. These include the Egyptian Association Against Torture, the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, the Association for Health and Environmental Development, the Egyptian Popular Committee in Solidarity with the Intifada and the Committee to Defend Democracy.

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1 comment

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