August 08, 2011

Amn El-Dawla is Still Going Strong

When activists in March stormed the Cairo HQ of the notorious Amn El-Dawla, the State Security, and then went on to storm outposts in Cairo and Alexandria where heaps of shredded files were piled up all over the buildings - it was clear: The Security Forces had done everything in their power to destroy as much evidence as possible. Having shredded thousands of files they were convinced that nothing could be traced back to them and they would be safe. Well - the scenario was not new. 20 years ago the same thing happened in Germany when the Berlin wall came down and the just as notorious Stasi - the East German Security Force - was dismantled. Since then the Germans with their renowned efficiency have found incredible methods to restore even the worst shredded documents. So it was clear that the Amn El-Dawla and its officers were facing hard times and would have to answer painful questions and even face trials if - yes, IF the new governmental forces of Egypt were interested in restoring the documents and clearing up the past.

Shredded files at the HQ of Amn El-Dawla in March

A little after the storming of the building the Amn El-Dawla officially was resolved and replaced by the Amn El-Watani with the Interior Ministry (MOI) promising justice and assuring that those officers that had tortured prisoners were going to be sacked. The files, the MOI said in addition, would be restored as much as possible.

That was in March and after that not much more was heard on the matter from the Ministry. The feeling grew that the promises were not going to be fulfilled, that justice would not come, torturers would not lose their jobs and that the MOI would not truly show interest in restoring the files - for whose destruction the officers of Amn El-Dawla would actually have to face jail terms.

The renowned German newspaper "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" now reported in its Sunday edition yesterday on the Amn El-Dawla and what became of the high hopes we all had in March. It tells of the victims who still get no justice, shows that those that tortured have still nothing to fear and that the suspicion - the MOI would not really be interested in restoring the files - was not unfounded.

Egypt should read this, know this and debate this. For if the past of the notorious Amn El-Dawla with its brutal terror against innocent Egyptians is not wholly cleared up and brought to light - Egypt will not be able to restore her dignity, the wounds will not heal and the desire for justice will be replaced by a desire for revenge. Even in the turbulent times of today the transitional government with the Ministry of Interior is obliged to fulfill the promises it made in March. If there is no honest attempt to try those who committed crimes and to restore the files that were destroyed the people will once more turn against the regime. For then the new is in fact nothing else but the old. And the people will have nothing to lose anymore.

This revolution did not take place so that criminal organizations of the past can continue their work in the dark and sweep evidence under the carpet. If this is allowed to happen a fear will grow: that the officers that tortured in the past will torture again in the future. Because no one is stopping them. Do not allow this to happen. It would be fatal for the democracy of Egypt. And it would be an inexcusable blow for the victims of brutal torture by the Amn El-Dawla.


Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, 7 August 2011

Three years jail for fasting and prayer

Under Hosni Mubarak, many Muslims have been arrested as potential Islamists. Even ordinary policemen were afraid of the Secret Service. The Egyptian State Security has not dissolved even after the revolution. It has only changed its name. The victims are angry - and powerless.

by Jochen Markett, Cairo

At last he can tell his story. Get rid of all the things they did to him. Raise his voice after this endless silence. When he starts talking it sounds as if he has not used his vocal cords for six years. And if now that he can speak again he does not want to stop. "My name is Mahmoud Lotfi," he says. "I was a prisoner of the State Security Amn el-Dawla from 14 July 2002 to 4 August 2005." Visibly shaken, trying to focus, he sits in the sparse conference room of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights in the Cairo district of El-Manial. The upholstery of the chairs are broken, foam pours out. The brown-checkered carpet is not only ugly but also dirty. They did not even place a glass of water on his table.

But to Mahmoud Lotfi that does not matter. For him it is crucial that he can actually come here after the Egyptian revolution and talk openly. Unlike in the previous six years when he had to appear every month at the Security Police and was warned not to disclose anything. But now here he has lawyers who work for human rights - for his rights. "I was in prison for no reason," he says. "I was just a Muslim who prayed and fasted."

His torturers hung him upside down from the ceiling

This is not only his version - even several Egyptian judges saw it that way who declared him innocent a total of 17 times during his detention. And yet the security police never released him. They acted according to their own rules. In his family home in Helwan, south of Cairo, three officers had arrested him without warning and had driven him to Lazoghly, one of the notorious prisons of the Amn el-Dawla, the security police. Only gradually during the interrogations he realized what they wanted from him. They accused him of being a radical Islamist maintaining contacts with the terrorist organization Jama'at Islamiyya.

Under Hosni Mubarak, who staged himself in the fight against Islamists as a partner of the West, this could happen to many Muslims - quite arbitrarily. Sometimes agents went into a store and asked for cigarettes. If the seller said his religion forbade him to sell cigarettes, they arrested him - as a potential Islamist. An estimated 25.000 political prisoners were locked away in the nineties by the Amn el-Dawla. The Egyptians say even the regular police officers were afraid of their colleagues from the state security. The security officials believed they were not bound by any laws.

Mahmoud Lotfi is now 46 years old. His grizzled gray hair makes him look older. Lotfi opens a button on his light blue shirt and rolls up his sleeve. Stripes are visible on the wrist. There they had tied his hands behind his back and bound him to the door - tearing up his tendons. Then he pulls up his left trouser leg revealing his bandaged knee. The bandage seems almost harmless - in contrast to the story behind it: His torturers hung him upside down from the ceiling for two long hours burdening his body still more with a gas cylinder.

Many employees of state security have kept their jobs

The results can be seen in the medical certificates that he has spread on the table: "meniscus tear" and "osteoarthritis of the knee" can be read there. An expertise from the Cairo University Hospital, another is from Houston, Texas. And as if this would not prove his credibility enough Lofti suddenly begins to mimic the endured torture. He lies down on the floor under a chair. He tells very upset that he had to undress completely and sleep for nights in this position. The food they pushed across the floor - and sometimes they electrocuted him.

They - that are not some anonymous intelligence officials. Mahmoud Lotfi can identify the full names of four security policemen who tortured him repeatedly, including two senior officers. He knows exactly where they work today. One was transferred to Cairo airport. All others are still holding their old jobs. Like thousands of colleagues.

NGOs estimate that at least 75 percent of employees have kept their jobs at state security. Only the name of the authority has changed. The Amn el-Dawla - State Security - was officially dissolved in March and immediately replaced by the Amn el-Watani: National Security.

The shredder running at full speed

This is reminiscent of the amazing last few months of the German Democratic Republic, GDR. On 17 November 1989 the Ministry for State Security was converted to the "Office for National Security." But there the parallels basically end. For soon activists in the GDR occupied the security head quarter and never left it anymore. In Egypt in March activists too stormed some buildings of the Amn el-Dawla. But only a few hours later the military special forces expelled the unwanted visitor. The activists were able to save some documents that they published on Facebook as "Amn el-Dawla Leaks". And some films that they took inside can be seen on the video platform Youtube. A breathless and shaking camera woman is heard, then the viewer sees it himself: in stairways and hallways mountains of paper scraps are piled up several meters high. The shredders had obviously been in full swing.

Publicly the Egyptian Interior Ministry says it wants to restore the documents. It even got itself advice from Germany: In March, Herbert Ziehm from the Bureau of Security Documents (Stasi-Unterlagenbehörde) came to visit Cairo. In an interview at the Ministry of the Interior the director for information Hani Abdel-Latif inquired about the German methods to restore shredded paper. There was not much more he wanted to know of the German experts. And since this "friendly reserved conversation" Herbert Ziehm has not received any more calls from the Interior Ministry. Disillusioned he states: For clearing up the past „the cooperation from government agencies is essential. I cannot see that here.“

"You have destroyed my life"

Yet there would be so much to clear up. Mahmoud Lotfi tells of four fellow inmates who died because they were not adequately treated. He himself survived - but how: Whenever he needed medication it turned out to be very expensive. His family, which he could usually see only half an hour per month, had to bribe security officers, paid them ten times the price. And even then they left him waiting for a month before giving him the drugs. Lotfi now urgently needs to be operated on his back. But he is afraid that the risky surgery might damage his spinal cord. He can only work a few hours a day and only while sitting. And his family? He lowers his voice. Whispering he says that his wife has left him. They don‘t have children. What remains for him? He looks down. "There is no future. They destroyed my life.“

The security police does not care about the fates of their victims. Wrongs should remain under wraps. A few weeks ago the Amn el-Watani invited NGO representatives for a talk. The officers distributed leaflets and showed a Power Point presentation about all the things they want to do in the future for the country. But one in the audience rather wanted to talk about the past, calmly. He spoke up and said he was quite willing to forgive. What he earned was not recognition but lack of understanding from the officers: "Why should you forgive us? We're a whole new organization!"

He wants the death penalty for his tormentors

Participating at this talk too was former police officer Ihab Youssef. In 2007 he resigned from his job and has been fighting ever since with his organization "People and police for Egypt" for a better relationship between the people and the security forces - without success. Now after the revolution the state security must finally change dramatically, he says. "Our fear is that in the near future the methods of torture will be back." Youssef complains about the lack of information from the authority. "How do they want to deal with the files for example?" In conversations the representatives of the Amn el-Watani had tried to calm him. They would check all the files and classify them. "But by what? And if they discover illegal acts of their employees how will they deal with that?" To this Youssef has received no answers. The Egyptians would not take this any longer: „The desire for revenge grows.“ In July thousands demonstrated in major cities across the country because they fear that the perpetrators who are responsible for hundreds of demonstrator's deaths will go unpunished.

For Mahmoud Lotfi the quench for justice has become a purpose in life. "The president and his sons are now in prison. Then these insects from the state security surely will also be brought there," he says. He wants the death penalty for his tormentors. Lotfi knows that this fight can be very dangerous for him. But the determination in his voice makes it clear that his will is much greater than the fear. "I am ready to die for it.“

Text: F.A.S.

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