Egypt's security forces are weakened after decades as Mubarak's enforcer

Motivated by recent shows of political strength by neighbors in Egypt, people in the Middle East and North Africa are taking to the streets of many cities to rally for change.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 9, 2011; 12:26 AM

CAIRO - For years, Marwa Farouk lived in fear of Egypt's state security agents, who arrested and interrogated her several times for her work as an activist.

But now it is the state security apparatus, which served as the main enforcer of former president Hosni Mubarak's regime, that has become vulnerable. In stunning succession, its headquarters have been overrun by angry mobs, its once-dreaded police force hidden away and, on Tuesday night, its top officials were placed under house arrest.

Meanwhile, protesters who stormed its buildings last weekend are now using Facebook as a clearinghouse of sorts for the reams of documents they found. While Egyptians have long suspected the organization of having agents in every corner of society, the files appearing online show a spy network whose breadth has surprised even those who worked for years against it.

When Farouk, a socialist lawyer, opened up a computer file this week, she watched as her life, chronicled in minute detail, scrolled before her eyes. Wading through the mundane drivel that agency spies had apparently spent hours collecting - her boring speeches at universities, long meetings with other activists - she couldn't help bursting into laughter.

"It just seems so absurd now what they were doing, almost comical," said Farouk, 31.

It is a sign of how rapidly things are changing in Egypt. Laughing at the much-feared state security forces just months ago would have been unthinkable for most critics of the regime.

For decades under Mubarak, Egypt's state security organization was hated for its use as a domestic spying agency. Human rights groups regularly tracked cases of citizens being arrested without cause and tortured, and it was such abuses that in part gave rise to the revolution.

The weekend raids by protesters were prompted by rumors that officials were destroying evidence that could implicate them in decades of torture and repression during Mubarak's rule.

The rush into state security buildings resulted at times in violent clashes with the authorities, who have tried to assure protesters that they are moving to secure documents.

Reinforcing that message, the military, which now runs the country, detained the current and former chiefs of state security Tuesday night, according to state-run media. Egypt's general prosecutor also announced this week the arrest of at least 47 state security officers accused of destroying documents, and ordered all interior ministry buildings be sealed by the military.

And the new head of the interior ministry - sworn in Monday along with the new prime minister and other cabinet members - announced he will scale back the state security apparatus. Meanwhile, the military has pleaded with protesters to return all the documents.

Mountains of files

But none of it has stemmed the massive collection of documents that protesters are posting via Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and blogs.

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