Minutes after the Egyptian military took control Sunday (March 6th) of the State Security Intelligence building in Nasr City, east of Cairo, Amir Mahmoud's expression was a mixture of smiles and tears.
He said, "Thank God, now our rights will be restored and the era of oppression has ended."
Mahmoud, 33, works in the private sector and could not obtain a public sector job because the State Security Intelligence (SSI) agency was critical of his political activities since his college days. He was also an activist for an opposition party. Officers with the agency frequently summoned him for questioning, which had an adverse effect on his own and his family's reputation.
When the Army announced Saturday that it would assume full control of most state security offices following break-ins by civilians, Egyptian began discussing ways to reform the entire security intelligence system in Egypt. The controversial agency was often accused of engaging in torture and political repression, according to human rights activists.
The fall of SSI began in Alexandria Governorate when a number of protesters clashed with security elements who were trying to destroy files in the building last Friday. The siege of other state security centres in various governorates followed. Citizens stormed several buildings including ones in Buhayra, Menoufia, Damietta, East Port Said, Tanta, and Marsa Matrouh.
The break-ins were followed by leakage of a large cache of documents related to political and economic cases, and the roles played by security officers. Many of the documents were posted on Facebook.
The SSI agency was founded in 1913 under the name The Political Security Service. After the 1952 revolution its name was changed to the General Investigation Department. Its mission was to protect the political system and maintain stability in the face of the opposition.
When President Anwar Sadat took office, the name was changed again to State Security Intelligence. The security agency's influence grew substantially during the 1990s as the government expanded its efforts to combat terrorism and threats from armed Islamist groups.
On Monday, the Public Prosecution Office ordered the arrest of 47 officers and soldiers from SSI on charges of burning and shredding documents and destroying computers in agency offices.
In an official statement Chancellor Adel al-Said, spokesman for the Public Prosecution Office said, "The prosecution continues its investigations by interrogating other officials about these incidents. All the SSI headquarters in the country, including documents and equipment, are now under the control of the armed forces."
Hafez Abu-Sadah, a human rights activist, told Al-Shorfa, "Burning the files in the SSI headquarters was done to detract attention so as not to hold the agency accountable for the crimes committed against citizens over the years."
He called for the preservation of documents that were not destroyed to facilitate the investigation into cases of corruption and oppression during the Mubarak regime.
The storming of state security buildings triggered a debate between two groups: young activists who participated in the January 25th demonstrations who are calling for the agency's dissolution and another group which supports restructuring the agency, limiting its functions and keeping it under strict control.
Brigadier General Mansour al-Issawi, the new minister of interior, told the media Monday that officials will "restructure the State Security Intelligence in a way that restricts its functions to counterterrorism only and not allow it to interfere in appointments in various government bodies".
Salama Ahmed Salama, a journalist, said reform of SSI should begin with removal of the top officials by forcing them to retire. Individuals who are proven to be involved in crimes should be put on trial, he said.
He added, "This would be followed by the creation of internal regulations that will standardise its work, limit its functions to a small number of cases such as terrorism and drugs, keep it away from politics, and subject its activities to parliamentary or the Human Rights Council's review."
Salama said the detention of suspects must be carried out under the supervision of the public prosecutor.
Amr Hamzawy, a researcher specialising in political reform at the Carnegie Endowment, said, "The security apparatus must be restructured in a manner that does not dissolve the SSI while ensuring accountability of the police and protecting citizens from abuse of power."
He added, "The security apparatus must be subject to the supervision of the Judiciary Council, its financial and administrative allocations should be limited, and its interference in all matters of the state should end."