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When Egypt’s government recently dissolved its much feared State Security Investigations agency (SSI), the news was greeted with widespread relief by most Egyptians. However, that relief has been short lived, replaced by growing concern that many of the SSI’s 100,000 members are working diligently and surreptitiously toward overturning the country’s tentative passage to democracy.
The SSI–the main instrument by which former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak maintained power throughout his 30-year reign–was long-renowned for torturing dissidents, rigging elections, and hiring armed thugs to attack regime opponents. Now, despite Mubarak’s ouster, some of its members are suspected of brewing unrest by, among other things, releasing criminals from prison, breeding labor strikes, and fomenting Muslim-Christian riots.
In one of those riots in Cairo on March 8, seven Coptics were killed when Muslims confronted 1,000 Christians who had been protesting the burning of a Coptic church. Additionally, on March 6 over 100 pro-democracy activists in Tahrir Square were beaten by plain-clothed hoodlums armed with knives and machetes. In both instances, the suspected instigators were believed to be leftovers from the Mubarak regime, along with rogue factions within the Egyptian military.
The cascade of unrest has become so great that it led Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf to conclude that it was “something organized, aimed at shaking the nation.” Deputy Prime Minister Yahya el-Gamal was more direct. He gravely warned, “We are now facing a counterrevolution, led by forces from the former regime along with hidden hands.”
For its part, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has promised that it will not allow a counter-revolution. In a statement it released through the state news agency MENA, it said the government was “fully committed to the interests of the people and to implementing the goals of the revolution; and it will stand firm against plans for a counter-revolution.”
To that end, the Egyptian military–which has long-had an uneasy relationship with the SSI–arrested the agency head and up to 100 of its officers suspected of destroying documents. However, most Egyptians are still disturbed that the military has not done enough to root out unrepentant and out-of-control SSI personnel.
As Mohammed Rifaat, an Egyptian activist bluntly said, “Unless they arrest its agents and try them they will form criminal gangs or become guns for hire. They can carry out assassinations for the benefit of the old regime or some of the businessmen linked to it.”
Of course, if a counter-revolution is indeed underway, it should pose little surprise. Unlike Mubarak and his top leadership, the 1.4 million rank and file members who staffed Egypt’s internal security apparatus do not have the luxury of finding comfortable exile in some far-off location. Rather, they have been consigned to the prospect of losing their once-vaunted positions, and, more grimly, to answering for their participation in a 30-year run of government sanctioned terror.
However, Egypt’s security apparatchiks aren’t the only ones being tainted as participants in the counter-revolutionary movement. As the political arm of Hosni Mubarak during his reign and the orchestrator of its oppressive policies, the two million member National Democratic Party (NDP) has begun to quickly and furiously shed its links to the old regime. To that end, the NDP has undergone a very unfamiliar transformation.
According to the NDP’s Secretary General Mohamad Ragab, hundreds of party members had resigned immediately after the popular uprising began on January 25, “even before Mubarak resigned from office on February 11.”
Furthermore, he said, “As for the members who said they are ready to stay with the party, they stipulated that the party must relieve itself of the senior officials who face corruption charges.” To demonstrate that point, the NDP fired 21 businessmen and former senior officials on corruption charges ranging from profiteering to theft of state-owned land.
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