BENGHAZI, Libya – With drawn and gaunt faces, some 30 Egyptians holed up in a modest Libyan hotel speak of the incarceration and torture they suffered at the hands of Muammar Qadhafi's loyalists.
“They told me, 'You Egyptians, you caused problems in your country, and now you have come to destroy ours',” said Mahmud Abu Zeid, referring to the popular uprising that ousted neighboring Egypt's president Hosni Mubarak in February.
“They wanted me to say that I was armed and had encouraged Libyans to rise up against Qadhafi,” he said.
The 31-year-old said he was the first Egyptian to have been jailed in Abu Slim, a district of Tripoli that saw some of the fiercest fighting and worst atrocities before Qadhafi lost his grip on the capital late last month.
Abu Zeid said the Qadhafi loyalists forced the Egyptians to record confessions that they had triggered the revolt against his regime, before they were eventually freed by revolutionary fighters.
“For five months, they gave electric shocks to my son. I was so weak that I was unable to walk, so they dragged me like a sack,” he said, adding, “I ended up recording their message.”Under pressure he “confessed” to having used guns to encourage Libyans to call for the ouster of Qadhafi, he said, adding however that the Libyans who heard the recordings were not fooled.
Abu Zeid's account tallied with that of other refugees at the hotel in Benghazi, the rebellion's stronghold in eastern Libya, some 600 kilometers from their homeland.
“They gave out bread by kicking it at us, and we had a liter of water to be shared among a dozen prisoners,” said another Egyptian man who added that he had been shot twice in the leg.
It was still difficult for him to walk.
Like him, other men in the hotel showed scars and burn marks on their backs they said were the result of torture.
Tamer Rad, an Egyptian laborer who worked in Libya for two years, said he had been forced to drink urine when he asked for water.
“I was really thirsty. I asked for water, crying. They told me 'You want to drink? Here!' And they poured urine into my mouth. I was handcuffed, I could not resist so I had to drink it,” he said.
The 26-year-old said the Egyptians had been stuck in Benghazi for several days and that he now had only one thought — of leaving Libya and returning to Egypt.
The group said they fled to Benghazi after being freed on 21 August when anti-Qadhafi fighters broke open several jails as they overran Tripoli.
And they had been unable to move on because, they said, the Qadhafi loyalists burned their travel documents and they are unable to contact the Egyptian embassy in Libya.
On Monday, the Egyptian foreign ministry said the men would be repatriated on the same day, explaining that they had been forced to stay in Libya after the fall of the regime due to “insecurity on the roads” and the closure of airports.