The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged statesecurity
Did this man cut off Egypt's internet?

General Rushdi al-QamariHossam has been a sterling job of late of putting together a who's who of State Security, partly derived from files and a CD of pics he obtained during last month's State Security HQ raid, to track down who was doing what and who's going where post-revolution. You can see it all by going to

This entry is on the State Security officer who would have been in charge of shutting down Egypt's internet on the eve of January 28. The question, as always, is where is he now? Has he been simply moved to another office? Will there be accountability for State Security or will these generals who ran Egypt's repression on a day-to-day level simply move to new positions in a superficially restructured State Security?

Read Hossam's post for the details.

Egypt's State Security officers get Flickr'd

Hossam el-Hamalawy, my old friend who started blogging here and now blogs at, has just put up this archive of portraits of State Security officers on his Flickr account. There must be at least 50 officers there, with multiple portraits, each identified by name. Hossam writes:

When we stormed State Security Police headquarters in Nasr City, which hosted one of Mubarak's largest torture facilities, on Saturday I found two DVDs in one of the offices, both titled "أرشيف السادة ضباط الجهاز" The Agency Officers' Archive. The DVDs included profile pictures of State Security officers, organized in folders. Each folder had the officers' name. Some however did not have the names. There were also sub folders that included pictures of those officers in social events like weddings.

I don't know what was the purpose of these two DVDs, but I sincerely thank the State Security officials who gave us this present on a golden plate. I've uploaded the profile pictures to this flickr set and added them to the Piggipedia. I urge you all to circulate them. And if you have any more information about those officers please come forward.

Each member of SS has to be brought to justice. This was an agency devoted to spying, surveillance, torture and murder. Every member of this organization from the informer all the way up to the generals should be prosecuted. SS has to be dissolved. It cannot be "restructured" like what the current PM is calling for.

Although those torturers violated our private lives on a daily basis, bugging our phones, offices, and even our bedrooms, I will respect the privacy of their families and will not publish the photos of their social events that included family members.

Just wow.

Update: Yesterday flickr pulled these pics off on the grounds that the pics were not created by Hossam. The pics will resurface, but Hossam, myself and others will cancel our Flickr Pro accounts.

Column: This is more of a revolution than you think
I have a new column up at al-Masri al-Youm, reflecting on the State Security raids, which made me think that Egypt needs some sort of reconciliation process to deal with the magnitude of what is being discovered and chart a way forward. Every day, more evidence of corruption, torture and abuse is being uncovered. The Egyptian judicial system will take decades to deal with it. While it needs to play a role, there also needs to be something akin to a truth commission to hear people's testimony — both victims and abusers — and then move on to building a better Egypt. 

While ministries shuffled paper and red tape, state security kept tabs on people. This goes beyond the issue of torture, which it certainly practiced abundantly, or the racketeering, blackmailing and other schemes its officers carried out with impunity. What those who gained access to its offices discovered is that, much like the Ministry of Transport might keep an inventory of its buses and trains, State Security maintained an elaborate database on citizens, the threats they represented, their weaknesses, relationships and other every little detail of their lives.

This process that had its own chilling logic, reminiscent of the “banality of evil” Hannah Arendt chronicled in Nazi Germany, Andrei Almarik in the Soviet Union, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck in East Germany, or Ariel Dorfman in Pinochet’s Chile. What it boils down to is that a vast bureaucracy existed simply to perpetuate itself and those in charge. Consider the neat categorizations of the population--“Muslim Brothers”, “Communists and human rights activists,” etc.--or the recent allegation that the Ministry of Trade paid a monthly retainer of LE174,000 to its own state security watchers to get them to write positive reports.

Whatever counter-terrorism and other legitimate roles State Security played, this must have been a relatively minor part of what it did: most of its resources were dedicated to the humdrum task of keeping tabs on those Egyptians who, for whatever reason--wealth, political opinion, media influence, foreign connections--posed a potential threat to the regime. In the end, this may have become about more than protecting the president and National Democratic Party bosses: the real power brokers in late Mubarak Egypt were most probably high-level officials at the Ministry of Interior, who ran things even if they weren’t public figures.

To deal with the immensity of this realization (or for many, a confirmation of what they already felt but could not prove), the military will have to adjust its ambitions for the interim period. It is no longer enough to have an adjustment period to a new, hopefully more democratic, regime. There has to be a wider process of national reconciliation and acknowledgement of past crimes if Egypt isn’t to sink into a morass of endless accusations and recriminations.

Read the rest here: This is more of a revolution than you think | Al-Masry Al-Youm: Today's News from Egypt

On the State Security secret file leaks

Over the weekend, as everyone knows, activists started posting documents they found in State Security offices online. I've read a fair number (there are good collections here and here) and just wrote something about them for The Daily Beast

The heading at The Beast, which I didn't write, gets a few things wrong--I'm not sure if there are "thousands" of documents out online yet (?), and I haven't seen SS documents directly discussing kidnapping and torture (although of course we know from other sources that it took place). In fact:

The documents made public do not discuss the rendition program that Egypt operated for the United States; there is no documentation of secret detention facilities, no transcripts of interrogations, no information about how informers were bribed or blackmailed into collaborating. These documents may have been destroyed already; or they may be in secret, secure locations.

As I mention towards the end of the piece, I'm convinced that not only is this the tip of the iceberg but that, as this Al Masry Al Youm story suggests, these documents may have been left behind on purpose to give people something to sift through when they were finally allowed to break in. It's certain that the most sensitive documents were destroyed or transported to secure locations weeks ago. 

I would not use the word "hoax," however. We shouldn't diminish the significance of what happened. It means a lot that citizens took over SS offices, and it means a lot that they found and publicized documents that show the massive, systemic, petty interference of the "security" apparatus in everyday life. But we need to recognize that there is a very deep game being played here, and that the SS shadow state may be undermined and on the defensive, but still operational. 

The fact that the documents that were left behind--which show widespread spying, wire-tapping, breaking into emails, using networks of informers to penetrate every political party and movement, directing the media, and total election engineering--are obviously considered by State Security to be light stuff, just points to how bad the "bad" stuff must be.