Powerful weekend victories propel Egypt's revolution
Saturday's storming of the headquarters of former President Hosni Mubarak's secret police is just as important as his historic ouster last month, say many Egyptians.
Egyptians stormed the headquarters of the country’s secret police Saturday night, marking another poignant milestone in the revolution as they overran the agency that was former president Hosni Mubarak’s tool of repression for nearly 30 years. Just months ago, entering the feared and hated symbol of torture and abuse would have been unthinkable.Skip to next paragraph
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Their victory came as new Prime Minister Essam Sharaf began forming his cabinet, making a break from the past by removing the ministers associated with Mr. Mubarak and appearing to make choices that would be accepted by democracy protesters. He also announced that he would begin restructuring the state security apparatus, and proposed transferring oversight of state security from the Interior Ministry to the cabinet.
The events of the weekend were a rapid fulfillment of some of the key demands of protesters who have continued to press for significant and systemic change. And many now see them as even more pivotal than Thursday's resignation of Mubarak-appointed Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq – perhaps just as important the historic ouster of Mubarak.
“This is the best day of my life,” said Ibrahim El Houdaiby after entering the headquarters of the State Security Investigative Service Saturday. Mr. Houdaiby, a former member of the banned and suppressed Muslim Brotherhood, was interrogated at the site in 2008. “This is when I can finally say the revolution is moving in the right direction,” he said. “This is better than the day Mubarak left, better than the day Shafiq resigned.”
Burned and shredded documents
The crowd of hundreds of protesters who gathered at the headquarters Saturday evening said they were trying to save documents they feared were being destroyed by officers afraid of prosecution. The protest came after citizens stormed a state security building in Alexandria Friday night and found burned and shredded documents, and as they gathered at numerous other state security offices around the country Saturday. Protesters gathered Sunday at a downtown state security office, demanding to be let inside.
At the headquarters in Cairo’s Nasr City neighborhood Saturday, protesters gained entrance to the massive walled compound despite the fact that the Army's armored vehicles were guarding the entrances. They ran throughout the modern compound of manicured gardens, looking for prisoners and poring through the files on political groups, average citizens, journalists, prisoners, and activists. They found a compound empty of people, but full of evidence of the past.
The agency, which fielded a huge network of informants, was used to spy on Egyptians, as well as for counterterrorism. It was notorious for its use of torture, and many of those present Saturday night had experienced State Security torture or interrogation firsthand. Entering the massive walled compound freely, without a blindfold on and without fear, was an emotional moment.
Abdullah Al Fakharany descended into the below-ground prison cells and described seeing torture implements, including devices used to electrocute prisoners. A man next to him pointed at the device, he said, and with tears in his eyes, said “They used that on me.”
Opulence built on brutality
In an office building, Egyptians took their photos sitting in the chair of the agency’s feared director, General Hassan Abdel Rahman. His opulent office was full of leather couches, sparkling chandeliers, and Persian carpets.
In the myriad smaller offices in the building, they also pored through folders of documents, lists, photos, maps, diagrams, and videotapes.