Egypt eliminates despised state security unit

By Zeina Karam
Associated Press / March 16, 2011

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CAIRO — Egypt’s interior minister yesterday dissolved the country’s widely hated state security agency, accused of torture and other human rights abuses in the suppression of dissent against the nearly 30-year rule of ousted president Hosni Mubarak.

Major General Mansour el-Essawy, the new interior minister and 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 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 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 the agency’s elimination an excellent move but one that should be followed by other steps to restore the Egyptian people’s sense of trust and security.

“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 said the Interior Ministry should ensure that all state security documents are preserved.

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

The security agency being dismantled had a free hand given 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.

Its demise yesterday was reminiscent of the order by President Boris Yeltsin of Russia 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 the Federal Security Service, its main successor.

Figuring 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 out.

“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 yesterday, assisted by relatives and armed men.

Some 25,000 prisoners, escaped from prisons during the popular uprising. About 13,000 have been recaptured or surrendered voluntarily. top stories on Twitter

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