Tuesday, March 31, 2015

A look at Egypt's new interior minister & his career in Mubarak's infamous state security apparatus

Mada Masr
In major Cabinet reshuffle, former NSA chief named new interior minister

Thursday March 5, 2015

General Mohamed Ibrahim’s controversial tenure as minister of interior came to an end on Thursday, when the president replaced eight ministers in his Cabinet and declared the formation of two new ministries.

Ibrahim, who served as interior minister since January 2013, has been widely lambasted for the brutal, and often deadly, security crackdown on political dissidents after former President Mohamed Morsi's ouster in July 2013.

His time in office also saw a dramatic rise in fatal attacks on police personnel, including an attempt on his life in September 2013. 

The president's office announced Ibrahim will now serve as security affairs adviser to the prime minister. Major General Magdy Abdel Ghaffar has been appointed to take over his post.

Ghaffar, who headed up the National Security Agency (NSA) in 2011, was sworn in on Thursday by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

The NSA was inaugurated by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) during their brief tenure at the helm of the nation, after former President Hosni Mubarak fell from power in February 2011.

SCAF formed the NSA to replace the notorious State Security Investigation Services (SSIS), which was widely perceived as the iron fist of Mubarak’s regime and infamous for its ruthless human rights violations.

Ghaffar served as NSA deputy chief from March to July 2011, when he assumed the top post after General Hamed Abdallah stepped down.

According to the state-owned Middle East News Agency (MENA), he also oversaw the agency's religious extremism unit, which combats militant Islamists. But just over a year later, in October 2012 the Morsi administration sent Ghaffar into retirement, replacing him with General Khaled Tharwat.

Born in Monufiya in 1952, Ghaffar graduated from the Police Academy in 1974. He then began work in the Central Security Forces before moving to the SSIS, where he spent most of his career. Two years prior to the revolution, Ghaffar was appointed head of the Ports Authority, until he was called back to the NSA.

In his first televised appearance in 2011, Ghaffar admitted that under Mubarak, the SSIS had infringed on the personal freedoms of Egypt’s citizens, implemented illegal practices and failed to adhere to the basic principles of human rights. But he did assert that nonetheless, state security played an “important role” in combating terrorism.

“We confess that there were some incorrect practices under the old regime. We confess there were violations,” he said. “But we have to understand that security forces were working under certain circumstances created under a certain atmosphere.”

But in contrast to the SSIS, the newly formed NSA was informed by a new philosophy that would “suit the new democratic order,” Ghaffar insisted, hailing the apparatus as one of the “revolution’s victories.”

Given the sensitive political climate in which he headed up the state’s most important security body, Ghaffar has made few media appearances. In one rare interview published in the Wafd Party’s official newspaper, Al-Wafd, in February 2012, he stated that the NSA was combating the “third column.”

The term refers to an unknown entity that the government alleged was inciting violence and animosity between security forces and protesters during the clashes that lasted from 2011 into mid-2012. 

“The third column consists of different entities aiming at making chaos last longer,” he said, but “the NSA does not intervene now in many issues, including interrogations, detentions or the religious activities of citizens.”

Security analyst and retired brigadier general Khaled Okasha told Reuters that Ghaffar's appointment comes as no surprise, given his background in fighting religious extremism. Okasha speculated that "the ministry will definitely witness a new strategy to combat terrorism."

The Sisi administration also replaced the ministers of tourism, agriculture and telecommunications, just over a week before the major investment conference in Sharm el-Sheikh that the government hopes will bring billions of dollars into the Egyptian economy.

*Photo courtesy of Al-Masry Al-Youm

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