Egyptian Protesters Storm Security Agency Offices
LYNN NEARY, host:
While the battle for Libya is goes on, Egypt is seeing new protests. Now that President Hosni Mubarak is gone, Egyptians have turned their attention to the countrys much-hated state security agency. The plainclothes force has been accused of serious human rights violations and many Egyptians want to see it dismantled.
This weekend, protesters stormed key state security compounds across Egypt. Their most important target was a notorious agencys headquarters in a Cairo suburb.
NPRs Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson was there with protestors last night.
(Soundbite of chanting protesters)
SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: The crowd chanting slogans across the street from Egypts state security headquarters is small. That makes protester Mahmoud Salem uneasy. He says large crowds are what helped people topple Mubarak and his regime. Salem fears having only a few hundred people now could draw a violent response from police or state-hired thugs here in the middle-class district of Nasr City.
Mr. MAHMOUD SALEM (Protester): Our goal is to protect whatever documents are in this building and to ensure that any prisoner who is inside gets out. Now dont want to have any kind of clash with the police, with the army or anything.
NELSON: So the protesters approach the daunting compound with caution. They move to the median strip and eventually to the sidewalk in front of the entrances. The soldiers guarding the compound dont react, other than to move an armored vehicle to a spot where the crowd swells.
(Soundbite of an armored vehicle)
NELSON: The military tells the protesters that nobody is inside the state security headquarters, but they dont believe it. Businessman Hassan Gebali is one of them.
Mr. HASSAN GEBALI (Businessman): The people cannot trust the government if they are saying there are no prisoners are here. They want to check themselves. They want to see themselves.
(Soundbite of yelling, Zhwei, Zhwei)
NELSON: Other protesters stop garbage trucks like this one in front of the compound. A few climb inside and search through the refuse for state security files. They believe these files are vital to bringing officials accused of torture and murder to justice. But the rotting garbage contains no papers and the truck is allowed to go. The next driver is not that lucky.
(Soundbite of a crowd)
NELSON: Angry protesters hold up handfuls of shredded paper they find by the bagful inside his truck. They again ask the soldiers to be let inside the compound. A few slip through the main gate that is now open. The soldiers dont stop them.
(Soundbite of clapping and chanting protesters)
NELSON: Clapping and shouting, Praise to the Almighty, the rest of the group rushes inside.
(Soundbite of a mob)
NELSON: The protesters break through the first floor windows of a locked building. They bang frantically on file cabinets, trying to get at the documents inside. But they are soon stopped by military policemen who pour into the building after them.
(Soundbite of yelling)
Unidentified Woman: Out. Out. Out. Out. Let's go out. Let's go out.
NELSON: The NPR team is briefly detained. They and most of the protesters are then forced to leave. Mostafa Hussein, who has worked with Egyptian torture victims, manages to stay inside for a while longer. Reached later by phone, he says it was hard to see the place that haunts his patients.
Dr. MOSTAFA HUSSEIN (Physician, El-Nadeem Center for Victims of Torture): To be honest it was a very emotional moment, especially when I saw someone outside using an electric torture machine. He was explaining how he was suspended from the device and tortured for hours and hours.
NELSON: He says protesters gathered as many documents as they could before the military forced everyone back outside.
Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Cairo.
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