Egypt's challenge: Rehabilitating victims of State torture
Yehia was blindfolded, handcuffed and electro-shocked during his two-day detention at a military camp.
"I still have marks on my wrists, because with every electro-shock, my muscles would feel the strain of being handcuffed," he says.
He still recoils from recurring nightmares of the torture and, for a long time, suffered insomnia.
Following the January 25 uprising, public debate has centered on the reeducation of the police force about the rights of detainees and proper conduct during detention. However, there has been little focus on the victims of torture under the former regime and how they should reintegrate in society while learning to adjust to life despite the trauma they endured.
Indeed, some will argue that the spark of the revolution could be traced back to the death of 28-year-old Khaled Said seven months earlier.
Said was brutally tortured to death by police officers while in their custody in Alexandria, his home city, in June 2010. Graphic footage of his disfigured corpse motivated Wael Ghonim, a Google employee living in Dubai at the time, to create a group on Facebook called "We Are All Khaled Said."
Considered one of the stepping stones of the revolution, Ghonim's group used social media to organize mass protests in Alexandria.
The Khaled Said Facebook page came to symbolize what many Egyptians already knew - the country had turned into a police state. Torture, a prevalent and systematic tool used by the State, and specifically carried out by police officers, had only widened the divide between those in power and those subjugated.
"Work on Him Until He Confesses," a prominent Human Rights Watch (HRW) report published on January 30, 2011, documented hundreds of cases that revealed torture was routinely used on detainees such as Said and not reserved solely for political dissidents.
"They stripped me of my clothes, took the handcuffs off and tied my hands behind my back with a blanket so hard I felt my arms were going to be dislocated," Nasr al-Sayed Hassan Nasr, a 52-year-old father of five, told HRW about how police officers tortured him at the behest of a third party.
"Then they started the electro-shocks... They seemed to just want me to collapse."
The El Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, established in August 1993, is one of the few institutions in Egypt which providing psychological treatment for torture victims.
A report published by the center in 2006 said: "Torture is used as a way of demonstrating power or authority, so that the more powerful can subjugate the weak."
Aida Seif El Dawla, a prominent activist and co-founder of the El Nadeem Center, said that the NGO aims to aid these victims through pro bono rehabilitation and legal services.
"We work to give sense to a senseless trauma, and trying to help the person concerned reclaim his dignity and feel empowered," she said.
She said that since the Revolution, the organization continues to work with old and new victims: "Torture did not stop [after the Revolution], and those subjected to torture before and after the Revolution still suffer all the same."
Social activist Yara Nassar, who had previously worked at the center, agreed with Seif El Dawla that the prevalence and trauma of torture in Egypt has not changed since January 25. Reports began to surface as early as last February of alleged torture under detention by the military police.
"Many think that torture has stopped or decreased after the revolution, but it's still the same, and the victims' psyche has not changed either," Nassar said.
Aya Fahmy, who has previously volunteered at the El Nadeem Center, explained that torture victims often suffer post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which includes nightmares and headaches.
While the feeling of humiliation often adversely affects a victim's state of mind, therapy may alleviate the psychological pain caused by the trauma.
Some victims, however, live with PTSD for the remainder of their lives.
Torture victims often experience feelings of helplessness, discrepancies in perception of reality, severe depression, and in some cases, suicidal tendencies.
Fahmy believes that Egyptian society should be more aware of the debilitating effects that torture has on victims the psychological state it leaves them in.
"Torture victims carry their pain back to their homes, circles of friends, workplaces and communities, and this is precisely why society must provide exceptional care for them."
Yehia said he did not seek treatment because support from his relatives and friends provided him with the security and comfort he needed to slowly adapt to normal life.
"But this method of recovery might not work for every other victim, and they should consider seeking help if they can't overcome the trauma," he says.
Organizations working to rehabilitate torture victims say there is no single therapy technique that should be used. Rather, Fahmy said that rehabilitation programs are decided on a case-by-case basis, and according to how the victim feels most comfortable talking about the incident.
Nassar described their rehabilitation as a highly sensitive process: "Psychiatrists often allow the patients to take control of how the sessions will be handled, because it's important that they do not feel they are being subjected to something."
Seif El Dawla says there is no blueprint to the rehabilitative process.
"You just have to be accepting, humble and willing to listen, because the trauma is sometimes buried so deep, repressed within the patient's psyche, that it takes time to decide whether the mechanism the therapist is using is positive or negative," she said.
Although treatment at centers such as El Nadeem is strictly confidential, the dropout percentage among patients remains high.
Nassar said that the statistics on successful recovery versus the dropout rate are comparable to those in other countries with similar social problems.
The challenge for now, as Egypt takes its first steps toward democracy, is to raise awareness about torture in the public sphere.
In 2007, the El Nadeem Center began publishing its findings and raising awareness through campaigns. This is an attempt to encourage victims to come forward, speak out and seek help if needed.
"If people are unwilling to talk about what they went through, we are unable to help them," Nassar says.
The El Nadeem Center hopes that Egyptian society will come to terms with its past and begin to show concern and support for victims of torture.
The pain that victims like Yehia have to grapple with on a daily basis is a living reminder of from crimes committed under the Mubarak regime. As Egypt changes its government, prepares for the upcoming elections, and welcomes newly-formed political parties, the trauma of torture lives to haunt its victims beyond January 25.