Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Egypt dissolves hated state security agency

By ZEINA KARAM, Associated Press March 15, 2011

CAIRO – Egypt's interior minister on Tuesday dissolved the country's
widely hated state security agency, which was accused of torture and other
human rights abuses in the suppression of dissent against ousted President
Hosni Mubarak's nearly 30-year rule.

The new interior minister, Maj. Gen. Mansour el-Essawy, a former Cairo
security chief, said in a statement that a new agency in charge of keeping
national security and combatting terrorism will be formed.

Dismantling the State Security Investigations agency was a major demand of
the protest movement that led an 18-day uprising to oust Mubarak. Since he
stepped down on Feb. 11, Egyptians have stormed the agency's main
headquarters and other offices, seizing documents to keep them from being
destroyed to hide evidence of human rights abuses.

Many protest leaders have said that despite the fall of Mubarak and his
government, the agency remained active in protecting the old regime and
trying to sabotage the democratic transition.

Islam Lotfi, a leading youth activist, called it an "excellent move" but
one that should be followed by other steps to restore the Egyptian
people's sense of trust and security.

Lotfi said dissolving the agency was just one of the demands of the
protest movement.

"We want to see public trials for all those accused of torturing or
abusing Egyptians and the Interior Ministry should compensate all those
who suffered at the hands of this agency," he said. He added the Interior
Ministry should ensure all state security documents are preserved.

Visiting U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, meanwhile, was
pressing Egypt's transitional leaders Tuesday to follow through on pledges
for democratic reform and, in particular, to ensure respect for human

The security agency being dismantled had a free hand by emergency laws
under Mubarak to suppress dissent and was one of the most powerful symbols
of his regime. State Security was notorious among Egyptians for its
arrests — and abuse of activists — and also was involved in closely
monitoring media and tracking and disrupting almost any political
activities not condoned by Mubarak's ruling party.

Tuesday's move was reminiscent of Russian President Boris Yeltsin's order
to dismantle the much-feared KGB after the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union,
hoping to show that the decades when the secret police penetrated every
facet of life had ended. The monolithic agency was broken up into several
agencies, led by its main successor, the Federal Security Service.

Russian protesters didn't storm the agency's massive headquarters in
Moscow, but angry citizens of East Germany and Romania did storm their
countries' secret police offices after communism fell.

In his statement, the interior minister said the agency's branches and
offices all over Egypt would be dissolved and replaced with a new National
Security agency tasked with maintaining security inside the country and
combatting terrorism "in line with the constitution and principles of
human rights."

It said officers for the new agency would be chosen in the coming few
days. It also added that the new agency will "serve the country without
intervening in the lives of citizens while they practice their rights and
political life."

Figuring out what to do with Egypt's tainted security agencies has been
one of the most contentious issues facing the military rulers who took
charge after Mubarak was forced to step down.

"As much as we are happy that State Security is now dissolved, National
Security, the new entity, must be under real judicial supervision,"
tweeted Wael Ghonim, the Google executive who worked on a Facebook page
that rallied hundreds of thousands of Egyptians behind the protests.

In a sign of ongoing chaos, 30 suspects in a detention center in the Nile
Delta city of Belbeis escaped Tuesday, apparently assisted by relatives
and armed men.

Security officials said the suspects were being moved to another prison
when thugs wielding guns and swords began firing in the air to create
chaos. Then the suspects broke out of their cells and escaped into waiting

Some 25,000 prisoners, including hardened criminals and drug barons,
escaped from prisons during the popular uprising. About 13,000 have been
recaptured or surrendered voluntarily.

Attacks on police stations freed another 25,000 suspects, most of whom
remain at large, according to security officials.

No comments: