When you consider the central importance of the security services to the old regime, it is remarkable how well they have done so far. Not a single police officer has been charged with a single offence before or after the revolt. (...) Egypt’s infamous State Security Investigations Service was simply renamed Egyptian Homeland Security without any change in its powers. Even though repression and torture continued, Morsi never missed an opportunity to praise the patriotism of the Interior Ministry, which he claims has already been reformed.
Part of the reason Egypt’s security establishment has landed on its feet is that it has been careful to bide its time. It seems willing to refrain from full-blown ‘pacification’ until the revolutionaries come to learn that the only alternative to police repression is chaos. It hasn’t been entirely passive . It has stirred up and ambushed protesters at carefully selected times and places, engaging them in short, brutal battles and leaving dozens of bodies behind. After each incident, investigations have been carried out, unnamed ‘third parties’ blamed and the matter shelved. One such episode occurred in February last year at Port Said Stadium. Determined to punish the football fans – the Ultras – for spearheading street battles against the police, the Interior Ministry bussed in thugs from the capital and, after blocking all the stadium’s exits, unleashed them against the unsuspecting fans. In little more than an hour, 79 people were killed and at least a thousand injured. A court ruling was scheduled for 26 January this year, and a clear indictment of the security service plot was expected, especially after hints from the presidency that such a ruling might provide the legal basis for a purge and restructuring of the security apparatus. Instead, 21 civilians were sentenced to death and the police were exonerated.
Violence erupted around the country and the riot police didn’t hold back, killing fifty demonstrators and injuring hundreds more. People were further enraged by a YouTube video showing a middle-aged demonstrator called Hamada Saber being stripped naked, trampled on by police in heavy boots and dragged along the tarmac. A few days later, a young activist called Mohamed al-Guindy was allegedly tortured to death in a police station. Morsi commended the Interior Ministry’s effectiveness, and appeared on television waving his fist defiantly and threatening troublemakers with harsher measures.
For security officers, the message was clear: under the Brotherhood, they could carry on as usual. This was hardly surprising. An organisation obsessed with conspiracies cooked up by ‘enemies of Islam’, and aspiring to spread piety throughout society, is bound to appreciate a formidable police force. The security services know, then, that they have a good friend in the Brotherhood. But they’re also open to counter-offers from members of the old regime – better the devil they know, as the loyalists tell them. (...).
So while military officers have had to make tough choices, their counterparts in the security services have survived the revolution’s first wave by alternating strategically between permissiveness and repression. In this way they have managed, on the one hand, to make plain to the military the drawbacks of giving in to the revolutionaries, while, on the other, proving to the highest political bidder that security men are still perfectly capable of committing any atrocities that might be demanded of them. And it is under the shadow of these two mighty institutions that the three contenders for political supremacy have jockeyed for power.