Recent incidents of alleged mistreatment against Sudanese nationals in Egypt may risk threatening relations between the Nile River neighbors.
Given their geographic and historical ties, Egypt and Sudan have enjoyed intimate and complex historical relations over years.
But these relations could suffer a serious blow following recent news reports that revealed cases of alleged police abuses against Sudanese nationals in Egypt.
The reports spoke of “systematic assaults by Egyptian authorities against Sudanese citizens residing and visiting Egypt.”
The story of Sudanese national Yehia Zakaria, who was arrested this month by Egyptian police on charges of forgery and currency trading, has been widely shared by Sudanese social media users.
The photos showed an old man with swollen red eyes, scars from burns, and bruises around his wrists after having been handcuffed by police. The pictures were described as an apparent reflection of “police brutality” in Egypt.
An investigation by Al Arabiya News found more to the story.
‘Tortured in prison’
Sudanese journalist Heba Abdel Azim - who interviewed Zakaria and reported on his incident for a local newspaper- told Al Arabiya News the man has since suffered a mental breakdown after being tortured by Egyptian police.
On Nov. 6, Zakaria went on a short trip to Cairo to secure medical treatment for his son, she recalled.
Upon his arrival, he left his son at a hotel and went to a money exchange firm in Downtown Cairo to exchange $500 intended to cover the costs of his son’s surgery.
He was then arrested by armed police officers dressed in civilian clothing along with his friend outside the firm in Talaat Harb Street.
The officers allegedly searched their pockets and confiscated all the money they had.
After meeting the prosecution, who decided to release them, Zakaria and his friend were taken by national security, and allegedly beaten on his head, handcuffed and burnt with cigarettes elsewhere on his body.
After spending almost a week in detention, Egyptian authorities deported Zakaria to Khartoum on Nov. 15 when the charge against him was dropped.
Abdel Azim said medical reports confirmed bleeding in his eyes, bruised arms, burn wounds, and a blow to his head, after being dragged on the floor by a prison guard.
Egyptian authorities promised to return Zakaria’s money, but haven’t done so until the time of writing, she added.
Zakaria was deported without his son, Abdel Azim noted, saying he had to leave the ill boy under the care of a Sudanese family living in Egypt to follow up on his medical treatment.
Not the only case?
Stories of abuse and interrogation tactics against Sudanese residents in Egypt have soared recently, according to Sudanese political activist Dr. Assad Ali Hassan, who confirmed similar violent campaigns against nationals living in Egypt.
“Egypt is the second home to Sudanese people, it’s shocking that this happens here,” he told Al Arabiya News.
“I spoke to a network of friends in Egypt where police have stormed coffee shops which Sudanese nationals gather in downtown and have arrested some.”
Some voices noted the arrests could be in connection with attempts by authorities to curb a thriving foreign currency black market, Hassan said.
Not all those arrested are necessarily involved in banned currency trade, he said.
Hassan noted that some arrested nationals were subjected to verbal and physical harassment by Egyptian police.
From taking them to custody, to questioning them, to presenting the findings to prosecutors, these people are often detained for at least five days, Hassan said.
‘Not systematic, but individual cases’
According to Sudanese Cairo-based Journalist Abdel Wahed Ibrahim, Zakaria’s arrest is not part of a systematic crackdown on Sudanese residents in Egypt but rather an isolated incident.
Citing his sources, Ibrahim suggested that Zakaria was mistakenly believed to have been involved in an illegal currency trade.
The Sudanese community in Egypt is made up of 200,000 members, Ibrahim said. For many Sudanese visitors, Egypt is a destination for medical tourism.
Egyptian authorities have promised to investigate the allegations of abuse after the Sudanese embassy in Cairo sent a memorandum over the arrests in Cairo.
The Sudanese embassy said it was requesting an investigation by the Egyptian Foreign Ministry into the abuse cases and called for such interrogations to end immediately.
For its part, the Egyptian government has denied targeting Sudanese nationals. Foreign ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid said his government will study the Sudanese complaints.
Hassan said there’s no reason why the Egyptian state would target Sudanese nationals, but there could be political elements behind the increase in the detentions.
He attributed decade-old disputes over a triangular territory on the border between the two countries.
The Halayeb triangle, which overlooks the Red Sea, has been a contentious subject between Egypt and Sudan since 1958.
“We fear such acts are not within the framework of increasing security or adjusting the Egyptian economy, but a political showdown [between Khartoum and Cairo],” he said.