CAIRO: Security experts and human rights activists agreed that the replacement of the disbanded State Security Investigations by the new National Security Agency was necessary but said it should operate under judicial supervision so it does not apply the same practices.
At a workshop organized by One World Foundation Wednesday, attendees called for lifting the state of emergency and putting the new apparatus under complete judicial supervision which includes judicial inspection as well as public monitoring to guarantee its commitment to its predetermined roles.
"The main reason for the violations in the past was the state of emergency; there will be no guarantees until it is lifted," said Negad Al-Boraie, human rights lawyer and former head of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights.
"Not all State Security officers were corrupt. No one can deny that there were violations, but giving up the apparatus altogether means losing 25 percent of our security capacity," said Sameh Seif Al-Yazal, security and strategic expert.
"Cooperation between State Security and other security apparatuses like the intelligence and military intelligence secures the Egyptian society," he added.
The new National Security is headed by General Hamed Abdallah and comprises sectors for protecting freedom of religion, human rights, fighting internal and external terrorism, hostage rescue and surveillance departments for foreign and Arab activities.
"After Jan. 25, the ministry’s main objective has been the security of the citizen and the street and not protecting the regime that can only be chosen and protected by the people," said Hany Abdel Latif, deputy head of public relations at the Ministry of Interior.
"The structuring of the new agency isn’t complete yet; we are working now on drafting a law governing its work and specialties and specifying the rights and duties of its officers," he explained.
According to Abdel Latif, more than half of the State Security officers were excluded from the new body and its personnel are chosen after a series of tests based on proficiency and attitude in dealing with citizens.
The disbanded State Security was constantly under heavy criticism for interfering in public life by appointing universities’ presidents and deans and forging elections, torturing opposition members and violating freedom of the media.
"They became above all authorities and unaccountable and tens of detainees disappeared or their bones were found later, but everyone was quiet and accepted it so they grew more in power," said Mohamed Zarea, head of the Arab Organization for Criminal Reform.
He said that State Security became more powerful during the 1990s as Egypt was undergoing an armed fight against Islamist extremist groups and including extensive surveillance programs.
According to Zarea, State Security had a major role to play in facilitating inheritance of power in the new millennium through forging elections and cracking down on and torturing opposition members.
Many expressed concerns that the new agency may return to the same old practices but under a new title.
"Workers, political parties and universities are no more in the ministry’s scope of work and we will not return to the old practices because we have the same ambition of all citizens for a powerful society," Abdel Latif said.
"There has been a process of restructuring in all the ministry’s sectors not only State Security as part of the ministry’s new strategy," he added.
He said that central security forces, formerly assigned to deal with demonstrations, are now participating in campaign against crime hotbeds. Officials’ convoys, an important part of the escorts sector, have been cancelled.
Participants said that State Security had its good virtues; however, they demanded guarantees to prevent violations.
The agency started operating in Cairo Airport this week by cancelling arrivals waiting lists, which included names of those banned from entering the country.
"The new agency will only be concerned with spying activities, terrorism and sabotage; the current force power isn’t even sufficient to return the old practices of monitoring public life," Seif Al-Yazal said.
He said that judicial supervision will guarantee that the new agency does not violate human rights, explaining that it is not allowed to monitor private phone lines except with a judicial permission for a specified period and which can be renewed if the prosecution sees a need for it.
Abdel Latif said the ministry has been presenting its vision for the new agency and its role in the media and are monitoring the public’s feedback.
The new agency is set to operate this month after the approval of its draft law from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and the Cabinet.