Egypt: Activists raid secret police, seek justice for crimes

March 12, 2011
An Egyptian protester holds up shredded secret police documents after a raid on security offices, March 5. Photo by 3arabawy/fli

The much-feared secret police and intelligence service that protected the regime of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak by arresting, torturing and even killing opponents has begun burning documents and evidence that could incriminate them.

This comes as calls escalate to abolish the force altogether and bring its officers to justice.

Hundreds of protesters surrounded the main office of Amn al-Dawla, the State Security Police, in 6th of October City, on May 5 to try to stop the burning of files.

Protesters shouted: “Justice, justice for they fired bullets on us.”

Army tanks and armored vehicles cordoned off the offices to protect the besieged secret police officers.

In the building, heaps of documents and files were on fire. Dozens of protesters used wooden ladders to take a peek from above a three-meter-high fence. Some managed to salvage lightly burned files.

The documents could provide insights on how the secret police operated with complete impunity under Mubarak for 30 years.

Similar protests broke out in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria and in Sharkia, a province northeast of Cairo.

Protesters asked for disbanding the force after word spread that officers were destroying “top secret” documents.

Eyewitnesses in Alexandria told local TV stations that officers cornered inside the building opened fire on the protesters, injuring at least three.

Disbanding the force would be the next most important landmark in the process of the Egyptian revolution, after it succeeded in ousting the Western-backed Mubarak on 11 February, and the dissolution of parliament a few days later.

Amn al-Dawla resembles the Iranian Savak force under the Shah of Iran in the 1970s. That force was later eliminated by the Islamic revolution.

The draconian force had instilled fear among most Egyptians and was often the main friction point between the public and the Mubarak regime.

Thousands of people have been kidnapped and tortured by Amn al-Dawla officers.

The force, whose exact number and budget remains a secret, controlled almost all aspects of life in the nation of 85 million. Its reports are said to have shaped the future of most professionals in the country.

No government appointments were made without approval of the secret police. Political activists risked at the least a ban on travel overseas.

Young army officers were put under surveillance to ensure loyalty to Mubarak. Spies were planted everywhere, including in shopping malls and sports clubs to monitor public sentiment.

Hajj Mohammed Ali said: “They banned all of us men over 60 from gathering inside mosques after prayers to read the Quran. They banned any gathering.

“They wanted to control the people with an iron fist.”

Others tell more dramatic stories. Sayed al-Gazzar, a secondary school teacher, recounted how his brother Khaled was detained by Amn al-Dawla in Sharkia for three days for not carrying an ID card.

“He came out a sick person with lots of mental problems because of the heavy torture he endured,” al-Gazzar told Inter-Press Service. “We spent a year going from one doctor to the other to find a cure for him.

“But he died a year later leaving behind three children and a wife without any income. They killed him.”

It is such heart-wrenching stories that started off a campaign in Egypt to disband and investigate the force after the February 11 toppling of Mubarak.

Calls are mounting on social networking sites Facebook and Twitter to surround more offices of the secret police force to save the important documents.

The Coalition of the 25 January Revolution (25 January is when the first big anti-Mubarak protest was held) —a loosely formed grouping of young leaders of the uprising — threatened to launch sit-ins around the country if the army doesn’t order disband Amn al-Dawla or move to preserve evidence of its human rights abuses.

“Our unequivocal request is the elimination of that police force,” the group said in a statement. “We will continue to escalate pressure within hours …. including issuing calls for masses of Egyptians to demonstrate until that police force is abolished.”

But the spread of protests to other offices of Amn al-Dawla could lead to renewed violence as the force is well-armed, and its members didn't hesitate in the past to shoot at demonstrations.

New Prime Minister Essam Sharaf is more responsive to disbanding the force, probing abuses by the force and holding its officers accountable. Sharaf has made statements against the force before.

Interior minister Mahmoud Wagdy, an old guard figure, has resisted calls to dissolve the powerful force, preferring instead to “restructure” it.

Human rights groups and revolution activists have vowed to press ahead with their demands to remove all symbols of the former regime.

On March 3, the Cairo-based Arab Network for Human Rights Information published a series of leaked documents, in a document entitled Countdown to End Amn al-Dawla, that detail the crimes of the secret police.

[Reprinted from .]

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