Egypt’s State Security and Investigations Service, the nation’s secret police notorious for torture, abuse, and widespread surveillance of citizens’ lives, will be dissolved, the Interior Ministry announced on state television Tuesday.
The agency, which was also responsible for counterterrorism operations, will be replaced by a national security agency that will take over counterterrorism work and will be subject to international human rights standards, according to the ministry.
The news is a huge success for the protesters who brought down former President Hosni Mubarak last month.
The state security agency was one of Mubarak’s key tools of oppression, and protesters had demanded that it be completely disbanded. Their calls only intensified after they stormed state security buildings around the country early in March, reacting to suspicions that the officers were destroying the documents that were evidence of their abuse.
In the agency’s headquarters in Cairo, protesters found prison cells, torture devices, and file after file showing the deep surveillance the agency conducted on dissidents, activists, journalists, and politicians. Many files had already been shredded.
But though they welcome the announcement, activists will be watching for proof that the move doesn’t amount to simply a renaming of the hated agency.
Will the new agency start from scratch? Will former state security officers, and their superiors, be brought to justice for their crimes? Will the new agency be subject to judicial oversight and truly abide by international human rights standards?
What about the emergency law, in place for three decades, that gave state security authority to essentially do as it pleased and severely curtailed civil rights? If it is not repealed, the new body will have the same powers.
These are the questions they’ll be asking as the government moves to implement the decision.