Storming the Bastille: Egyptians’ raid on State Security buildings

Juan Cole has a rundown of Top Ten Achievements of Mideast Democracy Protests this Weekend. I’m in a state of perpetual astonishment at how fast things are changing. I keep on realising I’ve not read about a country for a couple of days, and it’s had another wave of protest or resignations.

My personal favourite of the weekend is Number 4:

4. Egyptian protesters stormed the HQs in Cairo and Alexandria of the State Security Police, the dreaded secret police who used arbitrary arrest and torture to keep strong man Hosni Mubarak in power for decades. They said they had been afraid that security officials would shred documents implicating them in crimes, and they carried off many documents. Some were former prisoners who had been tortured in the cells of the building they invaded.

This is the about the point where you know the system is going to fundamentally change, not just continue with different men at the top.

The best historical comparison (this side of 1789, at least), is perhaps the raiding of the stasi headquarters in 1990. It’s not just that they broke through a barrier of fear and collected evidence of torture. They also halted the wholesale destruction of files that was in progress. That’s going to form the basis for some kind of reconciliation with the past, and/or prosecution of those involved in crimes.

It’s also pretty important for the world beyond Egypt. Over the coming weeks, we’re going to see a flood of information coming from these seized documents. We’ve already had German technology being used for torture and for bugging Skype communications. It seems fairly likely we’ll get something about extraordinary renditions. Maybe information from Egypt will tell us here and the US some of the secrets we couldn’t get from our own politicians.

And that’s just one of ten.

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