Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Egypt Shocked by Proof of Mubarak’s Legacy

By William Fisher

As Egypt’s new Prime Minister swore in the new members of his Cabinet, the country was still reeling from a series of grisly disclosures involving the military, the dreaded security police, and the country’s Coptic Christian community.

Perhaps they should not have been so outraged, because most of the brutal transgressions of the Mubarak regime have been known to practically everyone over a period of years.

Nevertheless, pro-democracy supporters were outraged by what they saw and heard and demanded that those responsible be held accountable. While most seemed to accept that these experiences are a part of the birth pangs of democracy in the post-Mubarak era, they clamored for accountability and retribution.

What has happened that has been so sensational? Three things.

First, the pro-democracy supporters who attacked numerous buildings of the Egyptian secret police – The State Security Agency – found secret police burning and shredding files, but were able to take away a treasure trove of undamaged files.

Various reliable news sources reported that, inside one of the buildings, large quantities of papers had been found shredded and the Army had moved in to arrest more than 40 security officers for damaging State property. Military officers who were on the scene when the protesters barged into the
State Security headquarters in Cairo and other cities tried to recover the
documents, wrangling some of them from the crowds. A senior prosecutor took possession of others.

But the pro-democracy supporters evidently got away with enough secret documents to create a dilemma for the interim military government: how to respond to now widely-seen spy files.

Some of the content of the documents is salacious and sinister, according to a report by Hannah Allam and Mohannas Sabry of McClatchy Newspapers.
There are several files that back State Security officers' reputation for
torture. In one letter stamped "top secret" in 2008 and made available on
Facebook, a senior official wrote that detainees suffered "injuries" while in
State Security custody. He complained that questioning had to be delayed until the wounds had healed.

Another file, they report, is a tape purportedly involving a Kuwaiti princess and a prominent Egyptian businessman. Another paints Egypt's highest-ranking cleric as a womanizer.

The two reporters said that a woman named Israa Abdel Fattah, 32, a labor organizer and blogger, shared her file with McClatchy and “marveled at the thoroughness of the surveillance.” The file included detailed transcripts of e-mails sent from her Gmail account and phone conversations with her ex-husband. The feeling of violation was indescribable, she said.

"I knew they were watching me, but I never imagined they knew all this
information about me," she said. "My friends tried to take me out to dinner that night. They tried to make me laugh, but I couldn't. I told them I should be alone, so I took my papers and went home."

Amnesty International offers this first-hand chilling account of the carnage and chaos inside one State Security building.

Protesters stormed the State Security headquarters in Nasr City during a demonstration calling for the dismantling of the apparatus, where they collected thousands of classified materials. Documents found included full transcripts of phone calls made by opposition leaders and journalists; details of hacked email accounts and clandestine surveillance efforts; and accounts from inside opposition party meetings, including names of State Security officers planted within them.

Protesters found documents that detailed accounts of cover-ups, corruption, and State Security control over the judiciary. Files on political activists were discovered, with extra detail on Islamists. Protesters also found documents relating to the Alexandria church bombing on New Year's Eve and the 1998 ferry accident.

In the basement of the building, it was reported that there were cells with torture devices. According to documents taken, the state security apparatus had created a plan to get rid of all secret documents following the ouster Hosni Mubarak, to prevent them from being exposed. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has issued a statement calling for all documents taken to be returned in order to preserve national security and allow the Council to take appropriate actions. However, Egyptians do not seem to be heeding this directive and many documents have already been published online.

Another account was provided by Priyanka Motaparthy, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, a prominent U.S.-based advocacy group.

She said, “Protesters entered the State Security Investigations (SSI) compound in Nasr City, a place they call the “torture center” of Egypt, just before 7 PM. They dragged out as many documents and materials as they could, to protect them from being destroyed. The night before in Alexandria, protesters stormed the state security headquarters on Fara'ana Street, and found "mountains of shredded paper," one activist who entered the building told Human Rights Watch. "By the time we got inside, there was nothing left [intact.] "

Some of the documents found their way onto State Television. Many more of the documents have been shown on Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites. This has presented the interim military government with a major headache: How to respond to this flood of highly incriminating information.

The second development has arguably been the most serious to date. One of the documents to emerge from the security services’ rummage sale outlines the involvement of State Security in the bombing of a Coptic Christian church on New Year's Day in Alexandria. The bombing killed 21 people and wounded 80, which the McClatchy reporters termed the worst violence against Egypt's Coptic Christian minority in more than a decade.

The document’s circulation triggered noisy protests Sunday in Cairo by hundreds of Coptic Christians, carrying crosses and Egyptian flags.

McClatchy reported that Copts, especially those in Alexandria, had suspected state involvement in the bombing, noting that a stepped-up security force that was supposed to have protected the church had vanished before the bomb exploded.

According to the document, one of eight said to discuss attacks on churches,
State Security used a jailed Islamist to help organize the plot, including
details on the church's entrances and exits. The document was dated Dec. 2,
2010, and was addressed to the interior minister. It referred to the church
bombing as "Mission No. 77."

The Egypt Tourism Authority estimates that Copts represent about 13% to 15% of the Egyptian population. The have clearly been targets of discrimination for many years.

Gorgette Qilini, a Copt who served in the Egyptian parliament, said Mubarak's information minister ordered television stations to stop inviting her to speak after she suggested on the air that State Security was involved in the explosion.

"Maybe they were involved," Qilini said Monday. "We visited the church after the incident and we didn't believe the official story. There are still many, many questions, but I don't have any documents."

Questions abound. Why, for example, would such a serious plot as the church bombing be outlined in a document that was found so quickly? Why were some documents shredded and others not?

Almost all the documents bear the State Security letterhead and the signatures of senior officers.

The third major shock to reach the Egyptian people came from Amnesty International, world renowned human rights groups that has been on the ground in Egypt since before the uprising.

Amnesty announced that it has received video images taken inside a Cairo morgue showing evidence of torture on scores of bodies of inmates from the Al-Fayoum Prison, one of Egypt’s largest. The organization said the video images it received showed large numbers of inmates apparently killed “in horrific circumstances.”

Amnesty International called for an urgent investigation by Egyptian authorities.
“These are distressing images that show a large number of inmates who appear to have been killed in horrific circumstances,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“The Egyptian authorities have a responsibility of care for all inmates of their prisons and must immediately investigate how these prisoners met their deaths and bring to justice anyone found responsible for carrying out unlawful killings, torture or other ill-treatment.”

Three videos of dead prisoners from Al-Fayoum Prison were taken in the Zenhoum morgue in Cairo on February 8 by a man who went to the morgue after the family of an inmate told him that the dead body of his brother was there.

“These are distressing images that show a large number of inmates who appear to have been killed in horrific circumstances,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“The Egyptian authorities have a responsibility of care for all inmates of their prisons and must immediately investigate how these prisoners met their deaths and bring to justice anyone found responsible for carrying out unlawful killings, torture or other ill-treatment.”

Malek Tamer found the name of his brother, Tamer Tawfiq Tamer, an inmate at Al-Fayoum, one of Egypt’s large prisons, on a list of 68 male prisoners listed in the morgue’s register.

He said the bodies were numbered with pieces of paper attached to the front of each and had wounds to the head, mouth and eyes, suggesting they were tortured before their deaths.

Injuries included bullet wounds, burn marks, bruises and missing fingers and toenails, Tamer said.

He was accompanied by a friend, Mohamed Ibrahim Eldesouky, whose brother, Reda Ibrahim Eldesouky, another Al-Fayoum inmate, was among the dead in the morgue.
The pair last saw the two prisoners alive in the morning of January 30, when they were in the custody of military staff with other prisoners on the Al-Fayoum – Cairo highway, south-west of Cairo, after they had left Al-Fayoum prison on January 28.
Military staff told them they could ask about their brothers at the Prison Authority in Cairo, under the Ministry of Interior, within two days, otherwise their place of detention would be announced within 10 days.

A week later, Mohamed Ibrahim Eldesouky went to the Zenhoum morgue after being told by unidentified men in plain clothes that his brother Reda’s corpse was there.
Having discovered Tamer’s name among those of 68 men on the morgue registry, he informed Malek Tamer, who then visited the morgue with his camera.

Tamer Tawfiq Tamer’s death certificate said he had died at Al-Fayoum prison on February 3 from “suspicion of suffocation and an acute blood pressure drop”.

Malek Tamer described his brother’s body as being blue from his head to the lower chest, and said bruises and coagulated blood were clearly visible on his head, nose and eyes.

Reda Ibrahim Eldesouky’s death certificate said he had also died on February 3 but gave no reason for his death, stating only: “Forensically examined and case under study.”

Ibrahim Eldesouky said he saw similar wounds on his brother’s body as well as burn marks.

The Egyptian authorities have not issued medical or forensic examination reports for either prisoner.

Malek Tamer and Mohamed Ibrahim Eldesouky have yet to receive any response from the office of Cairo’s Public Prosecutor after submitting the video footage and a complaint with support from the Egyptian Center for Development and Human Rights.
About 21,600 prisoners are reported to have been let out or to have escaped from Egypt’s prisons in unclear circumstances after the Ministry of Interior, responsible for running prisons, quit office on January 28 following that Friday’s ‘Day of Anger’ protests.

More than half of them were re-arrested or later handed themselves in to the authorities.

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