Dissidents demanding the end of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s regime had better hope they don’t end up under arrest. The first members of Mubarak’s new cabinet — a face-lift so he can stay in power — are heavily involved in the apparatus of state repression, including a spymaster who worked with the U.S. to torture terrorist suspects.
New prime minister Ahmed Shafik is a long-time deputy of Mubarak with a reputation for toughness. (Title of a 2005 profile: “With an Iron Fist.”) The new interior minister was the top jailer. And the new vice president is the Middle East’s most powerful intelligence chief. That looks less like the kind of government demanded by the protesters and more like a government designed to crack down on them.
Let’s start with the new internal-security chief, Gen. Mahmoud Wagdy, the former head of prisons. What happens in an Egyptian prison? The U.S. State Department’s annual human rights report explains: “[P]rison cells were overcrowded, with a lack of medical care, proper hygiene, food, clean water and proper ventilation. Tuberculosis was widespread; abuse was common, especially of juveniles in adult facilities; and guards brutalized prisoners.”
As interior minister, Wagdy will run the police forces responsible for keeping the regime in power. After a brief disappearance over the weekend, when several cities saw riots break out amidst the protests, the police returned to the streets Sunday. That prompted many Egyptians to wonder if Mubarak pulled the police back to tell the country that the alternative to his regime is chaos. Wegdy’s ascension would place someone familiar with crackdowns at the helm of those forces.