Life On Earth
Egypt Dissolves Hated Internal Security Force
By Tom Perry
CAIRO | Tue Mar 15, 2011 3:35pm EDT
(Reuters) - Egypt on Tuesday dissolved an internal security and spying agency whose reputation for brutality helped ignite the uprising that swept Hosni Mubarak from power last month.
The dissolution of state security marks another achievement for the Egyptian protest movement that forced Mubarak from office after three decades as president in a show of people power that continues to reverberate across the region.
Tantamount to Egypt's Stasi, state security was a hated symbol of Mubarak's rule and used by his administration to crush political opposition. Reformists feared that its survival was a risk to their hopes of establishing accountable government.
The Interior Ministry replaced state security with a new National Security Force, which would serve "the nation without interfering in the lives of citizens or their right to exercise their political rights," the state news agency reported.
Pressure for action grew after protesters stormed state security's offices across Egypt earlier this month, finding piles of shredded files, evidence of torture and documents showing the full extent of the agency's internal espionage.
Its head has been arrested and is facing investigation for ordering the killing of demonstrators during the uprising against Mubarak. Another 47 of its personnel have been detained on suspicion of destroying documents.
Opposition groups and reformists said state security officers must now be held to account so that Egypt can turn the page on the past.
Two state security policemen are standing trial over the death of Khaled Said, an online activist killed last year. His death is seen as a milestone on the road to the uprising.
Tunisia, whose popular uprising helped ignite the Egypt revolt, dissolved similar security services earlier this month.
DEMANDS FOR DISCLOSURE, ACCOUNTABILITY
"What is needed now is the trial of the leadership of the apparatus for what happened in the January revolution, the killing of demonstrators," said Abou Elela Mady, a reformist politician. "Disclosure is important for appeasing and satisfying the people."
Ayman Nour, an opposition figure who himself came under close state security scrutiny, echoed those demands and said the Interior Ministry should make a formal apology.
He has said Egypt must follow the example set by Germany after unification, holding to account people who had spied on fellow citizens. The Muslim Brotherhood said the dissolution of state security was "a step in the right direction."
The new security agency will be tasked with guarding internal security and fighting terrorism in line with the constitution and the principles of human rights, the state news agency reported.
"The selection and appointment of the officers of the new force will take place in the coming few days," it said.
One analyst said that members of the dissolved security force who had the right skills and training were expected to be absorbed by the national intelligence agency.
Mustapha Kamal al-Sayyid, a political scientist, said the dissolution of state security would boost the popularity of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and the new cabinet it installed earlier this month.
The military council had initially only committed itself to constitutional amendments and holding free and fair elections.
But it has appeared ever more responsive to the demands of the reform movement as it manages the transitional period at the end of which power will be handed to an elected government.
"This will increase the popularity of the government and dissipate feelings that the Supreme Council of Armed Forces was not responding to the revolution's demands," Sayyid said.
He added: "It is very difficult to judge now if this decision is the dismantling of the state security apparatus or reforming it under a different name. It should be clearer in a matter of weeks."
(Additional reporting by Sarah Mikhail and Marwa Awad)
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