13 March 2011
Early last week, several towns and cities in Egypt saw offices of the State Security Intelligence (SSI) up in flames. The army fired in the air and secret policemen with white weapons assaulted the crowds of protesters in an attempt to deter them as they attacked SSI offices, ransacked them for incriminating files, and set them ablaze. Word had been circulating that SSI officials were burning or shredding documents that would have formed incriminating evidence against them when brought to justice.
Fires and documents
In Cairo, the offices at Lazoghli and Nasr City were among those torched. In the satellite town of 6 October west of Cairo, demonstrators surrounded the fort-like SSI building when word got around that the officials there had burned huge amounts of documents, the smoke of which was rising in the air. The army secured the building and prevented the demonstrators from breaking into it, as they demanded that the officials inside should be brought to justice.
In Alexandria, the demonstrators broke into the SSI building; looted the weapons, equipment, and files inside; and attacked the officers and security men inside causing very serious injuries to some 21 of them. They ended up torching the building.
Similar incidents occurred in the Canal town of Ismailiya as well as in the southern towns of Assiut and Qena where the SSI ran to the tribal elders for protection.
In the Delta town of Damanhour the demonstrators, who had wished to turn the SSI building into a headquarters for their newly-founded university but were not able to do so, burned the building and converted its blackened remains into a shrine.
Interestingly, ever since the major offensive against the SSI, documents incriminating individuals and associations have been circulated, but none of them can be authenticated. Editor-in-chief of the Cairo independent daily al-Masry al-Youm filed a claim with the public prosecutor against the circulation of one such document which incriminated him in a bribery case. And on Facebook, a hilarious document was circulated as an excellent sample of how easy it is to forge such documents on photoshop or similar applications. The document implicates, citing detailed convincing evidence, Mubarak of leading a counter-revolution, and goes on to incriminate him of being related to Genghis-Khan and of impersonating King Mina who unified Egypt in its pre-Dynastic history.
Reformed yes; abolished no
According to General Ahmed Abdel-Halim, a strategic and security expert, there are two main State apparatuses concerned with national security. One is the intelligence agency which is concerned in essence with matters outside Egypt that affect its security; and the other is State security the work domain of which is inside Egypt.
“Of course the SSI needs reform,” General Abdel-Halim remarked to Watani, “but it is unthinkable that it should be abolished. Its work is mainly concerned with ensuring the security of Egypt and Egyptians, as the work of all national security apparatuses around the world is concerned with the security of their countries and citizens.” The problem, however, he said, was that the SSI’s role had extended to spy on citizens, and the apparatus was guilty of major incidents of perversion. This, he explained, is a trait common to most dictatorial regimes which rely on State security apparatuses to guarantee they remain in power.
“The Ministry of Interior carried out serious rights violations through the SSI,” General Abdel-Halim said. It spied on opponents of the regime and kept files on each of them, to be used when needed. This, he explained, is a very grave infringement, because it has nothing to do with the security of the State. The SSI exploited it to silence the opposition.
SSI senior officials stayed in office for long durations. This, General Abdel-Halim said, augmented the brutality of this apparatus; democratic reform should limit the terms in office of SSI heads.
Hafez al-Marazi, a prominent media figure, applauded the 25 January youthful revolution which overthrew Mubarak and, later, Shafiq. Mr Marazi expressed an urgency to disband SSI, which, according to him, represents the old regime. In case the SSI has to remain, he said, it should be placed under the Ministry of Justice rather than the Ministry of Interior.
Marazi does not believe the young revolutionaries to be behind the ruin of SSI documents; he explained that the youth only wanted the downfall of the notorious apparatus. According to him, SSI officials were themselves behind the burning of these documents for one of two reasons: either the SSI was trying to destroy any evidence that would convict it of violations or infringements on rights; or that these documents were vitally important and would have jeopardised Egypt’s national security had they fallen into the wrong hands.