As Egypt undergoes political and social reform, AUCians debate security versus human rights
Minister of Interior Mansour El-Essawy last week announced the disbanding of the controversial Amn el Dawla [State Security] in a move that has ignited debate over the role that respect for human rights should play in any future police apparatus.
“Minister of Interior Mansour El-Essawy decided today to cancel all administrative branches and offices of State Security in all the republic’s provinces,” the official MENA news agency reported.
The apparatus will be replaced with the National Security bureau and focus exclusively on terrorism issues.
However, since the January 25 Revolution and the recent exposure of the State Security’s operating methods and secret files, public opinion has been divided whether civil liberties should take precedence over security.
When protesters and activists stormed the State Security headquarters in both Cairo and Alexandra, they came across piles of shredded documents.
But not all documents were destroyed in time apparently, because some were discovered in trash bins and container trucks. Their contents are disturbing because they reveal the extent to which the security apparatus spied on its own citizenry.
One article in an American newspaper quoted a political activist that said she found a picture of herself and her husband at a party in her state security file.
These invasions of private lives –the tapping of phone lines, spying on people’s movements and monitoring their internet access- were justified as a way of providing alleged security to Egypt, but they are considered to be basic civil rights violations.
Nevertheless, many AUCians interviewed by The Caravan believe that security and human rights cannot both be present in the same equation; they believe that in order to maintain security, some human rights should be violated, and to maintain human rights, some security should be compromised.
But Heba Morayef, a researcher at Human Rights Watch in the Middle East and North Africa, offers an alternative view.
“I think that this is a false equation. Real security comes through respect for human rights in the long term,” Morayef said.
According to Morayef, the way the government should deal with this dilemma is by safeguarding human rights as an enshrined principle; only real evidence can be used to arrest people suspected of being involved in any terrorism activities or illegal actions.
In her opinion, when the government arrests people without concrete proof incriminating them, this doesn’t help security at all; it actually does the opposite.
Morayef also believes that measures such as the emergency law are not consistent with international law and that they contribute to the lack of security.
“A legal framework should be created to maintain human rights and at the same time allow the government only to arrest anyone involved in terrorism and crime,” she said.
But Morayef’s views may take some getting used to, particularly in a socio-political environment which absolved State Security of any incrimination for the sake of fighting crime.
“There is nothing called human rights for those who committed crimes related to national security. Violence is needed with some criminals in order to make them confess their crimes,” Mohamed El Shiaty, an officer with the rank of general in state police, told The Caravan.
He believes that “criminals” forfeit their human rights when they commit acts of violence against others.
El Shiaty also mentioned that nine years ago there was a terrorist that they weren’t able to capture, so they arrested his lawyer, took his clothes off and electrocuted him until he confessed everything and they arrested the terrorist.
“There is no justification for torture; it’s an international crime. And it won’t bring security; people will say anything to make torture stop so the information they tell might not even be reliable,” she said.
Mohamed Donia, a mechanical engineering major, shared Morayef’s point of view.
“It is not wise to compare security with human rights because there is no conflict between the two aspects, but if the comparison happened, I will choose my human rights. My religion orders me to defend my rights whatever the consequences.”
“Having my human rights is my priority,” he said.
But Khalid Laymona, a business and actuarial science major, believes security must come first.
“Of course I am for security. How can some people ask for the damaging of the security system which achieves one of their human rights? How can some people support human rights and at the same time be against the device that provides some of these rights?”
Human Rights Watch is currently investigating case of alleged human rights violations in Egypt, and has been producing numerous statements on the situation in the country.