- February 28, 2011
- 15 minutes read
State Security’s History of Repression and Torture
Decades of oppression and torture practiced by Security Forces from the successive regimes that ruled over Egypt for more than a hundred years, have competently failed to defend national security and thwart terrorist attacks, the most recent example of this is the bombing of the Church of Saints Mark and Peter in Alexandria.
One of the key demands Youth of the Revolution have insisted on is to dismantle the state secret service, as they are responsible for so many sensitive cases due to wide-ranging powers conferred upon by the Emergency Law. The government of President Gamal Abd al-Nasser drafted the Emergency Law to be used to muzzle public opinion and faciliate arbitrary arrests against polotical opponents. During Mubarak’s 30-year rule, the number of detainees reached 51,000, more than half of them are political prisoners who frequently served more than 20 years behind prison walls, despite repeated court rulings for their immediate release.
Ex-Interior Minister Habib al-Adly, whose agency was responsible for the paramilitary security forces’ influence, has been increased and plainclothes state security were spread in factories, universities, schools, hospitals, government departments and every corner of the country. State Security were also assigned new tasks related to political trends like Coptic issues and had a great influence on issues such as interreligious coupling of a Muslim male with a Coptic female or an ordinary quarrel over disputed land between a Muslim and a Coptic Christian.
Although the law authorizes that prosecutors have the right to suddenly inspect police stations in the event they receive complaints on the unjust detention of innocent people or torture, state security headquarters are not enlisted as a safe haven for the worst forms of human rights violations, ranging from the detention of thousands of people for several days, weeks or months in which their families did not know anything about them, to practicing the most heinous forms of torture to force them to confess to criminal activity, whether or not the person is in fact guilty.
In recent years when Mubarak had nearly finished his 30 years of power, injustice, oppression and intimidation have expanded, ranging from brutal police attacks on demonstrators to widespread torture of detainees without formal charges.
Egypt was the first Arab state to establish state security in 1913 under British mandate and it still exists to this day. A pervasive and oppressive internal security apparatus is associated with authoritarian regimes, as they are, by definition, used to support the political power of an individual government.
This security system was established specifically to pursue the steps of armed resistance and aimed at ending their resistance to British occupation. It is the oldest of its kind in the Middle East. The occupation hired some Egyptian police officers and for the first time, was managed by Director of Cairo General Security Major General Salim Zaki.
After signing the Anglo-Egyptian treaty in 1936, the Politburo split into two departments; one force in Cairo while the other was in Alexandria, in addition to secret service under the auspices of the King and headed by the Commander of the Royal Police. The Interior Ministry had no jurisdiction over it because its chief was receiving orders directly from the King.
After the 1952 Egyptian Revolution, its name was changed to General Investigation. Anwar el-Sadat re-named it as SSI, then its name was changed to SSI sector and finally state security apparatus.
Titles varied but tasks have remained unchanged as mechanisms of violating people’s rights and robbing their liberties continued. It is well-known that all police sectors are dominated by state security and is dedicated to serve its policies.
It became a tradition based in the Egyptian state that senior SSI leaders who practiced inhumane acts held key political positions as ministers, governors and heads at governmental departments and bodies. Top SSI leaders assumed the Interior Ministry like General Abdul Azim Fahmi; Mamdouh Salim, who was interior minister and served as prime minister; Sayyed Fahmy, Hassan Obobaha, Ahmed Rushdi and Habib Al-Adli.
Many former detainees who were detained by the State Security Service listed severe abuses practiced against them. These ranged from insults, beatings, torture, use of electric shocks all over the body particularly in sensitive areas in an attempt to exercise strong pressure on detainees to confess to things they did not commit. This information confirmed that torture was systematic and widely used against detainees to bolster the government’s control over their citizens while also allowing the government to deny prior knowledge of any violations of civil liberties.
Many books have been written disclosing the torture was practiced by State Security, including one by Ahmed Raef, author of the famous book ‘Al-Bawaba Al-Sawda’ (The Black Gate) in which he mentions means of torture committed against him and Muslim Brotherhood activists. “Many techniques were used to torture prisoners, described as barbaric and brutal,” he said, recalling how the prisoners, during the reign of Abdul Nasser, were killed and buried in the desert of Nasser City.
Hamas has accused Egypt of torturing to death Yousef Abu Zuhri, the brother of Hamas’s spokesman in Gaza by using electric shocks administered by Egyptian interrogators in 2010. Abu Zuhri’s family issued a statement saying: « Yousef Abu Zuhri has been killed in the Egyptian state security jails as a result of repeated, severe electric shocks at SSI headquarters in Nasr City. “They only moved him to the hospital after his condition deteriorated seriously,” said Abu Zuhri. “But they refused to keep him at the hospital even though the bleeding never stopped.”
He went on to say that his brother had died in his prison cell, adding that his family had not been allowed access to the slain man. We will sue the Egyptian security before international tribunals. Egyptian authorities claimed that Yousef Abu Zuhri died of natural causes.
In his memoirs, Abu Omar Al-Masri said he was tortured inside the headquarters of state security in Nasr City.
Abu Omar said he received his worst torture while in SSI custody at Nasr City.
He was beaten from head to toe, tied by rope and shocked by electricity in every part of body and especially in his genitals (penis – testicles – the breasts), and beaten with sticks.
Secret police agencies have often been used as an instrument of political repression.