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Inside Egypt’s Securitocracy

Juha Makela defines securitocracy as “a system of security elites (intelligence and security services, military and police forces) that, at the executive level, use either direct or indirect political power and influence in matters related to a state’s foreign and security policy, internal security, and even in the finance and economic sectors.”3 In the case of Egypt, the country has been under continuous emergency law since 1981, when Mubarak’s regime took power following the assassination of President Anwar Sadat. The Emergency Law permitted detention without charge and prohibited gatherings of five or more people without prior authorization from the Ministry of Interior (Mol). Under Egypt’s Emergency Law, the president and, by extension, the prime minister and the minister of interior have gained tremendous power. In the name of preventing terrorism and suppressing political dissidence, the Emergency Law gave the executive branch a free hand to “restrain the movement of individuals, search persons or places without warrants, tap telephones, monitor and ban publications, forbid meetings, and intern suspects without trial.”4

The State Security Investigation Service (ssis) is the most infamous organ of the intelligence community. Founded during the 1920s with British officials’ help, the ssis’s primary goal was the collection of security intelligence. Under the Mubarak regime, the ssis gained increasing power and extended its activity to include the intense surveillance of Egyptian citizens. The ssis was not only put in charge of counterterrorism and counterintelligence, but came in immediate contact with ordinary people by monitoring a wide spectrum of groups in Egyptian society, including political opposition groups and activists, religious extremists, Christian missionaries, judges, and foreign nationals living in Egypt.5 In effect, the ssis was Mubarak’s extended arm in the streets. Under emergency law, the ssis revived techniques that some accused of amounting to torture to extract information and punish suspected political activists. As a result of the widespread use of these techniques, people have been known to have “disappeared” for days or weeks at a time.6 The police thus evolved in the context of the Emergency Law and the constant human rights violations and abuses by the ssis, irremediably adopting some of their worst practices to ensure “stability” in the streets. That said, Christopher Schneider reminds us that the “police are a unique group with special powers that[, under Mubarak, included] the authorized use of deadly force.”7 Authorized or not, their use of force has been demonstrably excessive.

Unfortunately, as the Mubarak regime increasingly chose security-based solutions in the face of numerous social and political phenomena, the regime drew on police authority alone to deal with matters such as terrorism. As is the case in many nondemocratic—or even some democratic—countries, the war on terrorism was also a pretext for many political extrajudicial practices. This eventually led to the normalization of the state of emergency in Egypt. The ruling regime used the police as a formidable shield to quell threats to its power, while police were left to encounter the wrath and disdain of the people.

 
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