Friday,20 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1180, (16-22 January 2014)
Friday,20 July, 2018
Issue 1180, (16-22 January 2014)

Ahram Weekly

The man behind the leaks

In the wake of recent leaks of phone conversations featuring well-known political activists, Nevine El-Aref talks to journalist Abdel-Rehim Ali who broadcast the recordings on TV

Al-Ahram Weekly

Two weeks ago, the privately-owned Egyptian television channel “Al-Qahera wal-Nas” (Cairo and the People) aired a series of recordings of private phone calls of political activists who were key players in the 25 January Revolution.

The recordings were broadcast on a TV show entitled “The Black Box” presented by journalist and Islamist movement researcher Abdel-Rehim Ali. In the one-hour show, viewers could hear the activists talking to each other about foreign funds and seizing secret files from State Security when protesters stormed the organisation’s building in the aftermath of the 25 January Revolution.

The files were said to contain information that could be used to convict the figures, among whom were former member of parliament Mustafa Al-Naggar, 6 April Youth Movement founder Ahmed Maher, two of the movement’s members Asmaa Mahfouz and Mohamed Adel and poet Abdel-Rahman Youssef.

The recordings triggered the anger of the activists involved as well as of Egypt’s rights groups and prominent political figures. However, another group defended Ali’s decision to broadcast them, with former assistant minister of the interior Farouk Al-Maqrahi telling Moataz Al-Demerdash during the latter’s programme Masr Al-Gedida (New Egypt) on the Hayat Channel that the security of the state came before that of citizens.

 The leaked calls could not be considered private because they related to the national security of Egypt, Al-Maqrahi said. “Whoever is responsible for the leaks is not to be blamed,” he said.

Meanwhile, opponents saw the leaks as a gross violation of privacy, alleging that they were part of a plot to defame activists involved in the 25 January Revolution and to tarnish their reputations. They called for compliance with the articles of the new constitution that guarantee citizens’ privacy.

A lawyer specialising in constitutional affairs, Essam Al-Eslamboli, told anchor Mona Salman on her programme on the Dream Channel that recording phone calls was legal if it was carried out with a judicial warrant but that broadcasting such calls was always illegal. If the phone taps had been carried out without a warrant, they were illegal, he said.

Activists appearing in the recordings described the leaks on their Facebook pages as a “smear” on the 2011 Revolution and announced that they would be suing Ali. The country’s prosecutor-general, Hisham Barakat, ordered the prosecution to immediately start investigations into the leaks and their broadcasting.

In order to find out the story behind the release of the recordings, Al-Ahram Weekly paid a visit to Ali in his top-security office. The area in front of the building is blocked with iron bars to prevent cars from parking, and, stepping up towards the building’s iron gates visitors are welcomed by a giant bodyguard and front desk guards who ask for names and the reasons for the visit.

After passing through a metal detector, visitors are escorted to Ali’s office, having braved the video cameras monitoring their every move on the way. Asked why there had been so much public anger about the broadcast of the leaked calls, Ali said that “I don’t know the reason why. Is it because Egyptians have got depressed, realising the truth behind those activists upon whom they once pinned such high hopes?”

The broadcasts were not the first time he has published leaked information, he said, having previously published a documentary showing members of a Muslim Brotherhood cell during their trip from Cairo to Gaza through tunnels and their training in armaments.

“I also leaked 5,000 messages that toppled former president Mohamed Morsi sent from his private cell phone,” Ali said, explaining that these messages had been sent during Morsi’s four last days in power at the beginning of July 2013 to different international figures asking them for help.

“Messages and calls from Morsi to an American intelligence agent in Turkey before and after taking Egypt’s presidential seat were also leaked and broadcast,” Ali said, adding that he had filed a report to the prosecutor-general in December 2012 when Morsi was still in power, accusing him of spying for US intelligence.

“Airing these recordings and introducing them to the people is one of my duties towards the nation,” Ali told the Weekly.

He went on to say that he had been able to collect the recordings because he was a researcher into the Islamist movements, something which had given him good relations with State Security. “I will not identify the source who offered me the recordings, as this would be to go against professional ethics,” Ali said, adding that he had been close to the source for 20 years.

“The source was not the late colonel Mohamed Mabrouk who was assassinated recently,” Ali confirmed. “As an honest man keen on Egypt’s welfare, I reported these recordings to the prosecutor-general and the State Security on 21 December before airing them on TV,” Ali said. “I spent four hours on the investigations with State Security, and I provided it with all the information, documents and phone recordings I had.” 

Ali said that he had decided to broadcast the recordings when he realised that the group of activists had contacted foreign countries in order to undermine Egypt’s transitional roadmap. Ali said that the activists had called for protests on 14 and 15 January this year in an attempt to sabotage the constitutional referendum and then again on 25 January in an attempt to topple the regime.

“They want to lead the country to chaos,” Ali said. “I aired the recordings on the programme because Egyptians have the right to know about them and it is in the public interest.” He described the activists whose voices appear in the recording as “traitors prioritising their private interests over the security and stability of the nation.”

Asked who had taped the calls, Ali said that Egypt was a country whose institutions went back 7,000 years. There had never been a genuine lack of security in Egypt when the state security institutions could not have acted against those wanting to bring chaos to the country.

Had there been a genuine lack of security, he said, Morsi would have “succeeded in cutting Egypt’s security ties and dissecting the army’s limbs. But Egypt’s security and information agencies have always fought whoever tried to threaten Egypt’s national security. All the files will be open soon, and all the traitors will be tried when the country reaches stability with a new constitution, parliament and elected president,” he asserted.

Over the past three years, the security agencies had been working to protect the country’s national security. Leaking the calls was a message to anyone tempted to betray the country. “We will not let you do it. We are not in a police state, as some claim. We are simply in a state where the state acts to protect Egypt’s interests,” Ali said, adding that a distinction should be made between police matters and matters of national security.

The aired calls did not break anyone’s right to privacy, he said, since parts discussing private matters had been cut before broadcast.

However, some consider the recording of a call between former MP Mustafa Al-Naggar and poet Abdel-Rahman Youssef in which they talk about pornographic materials allegedly belonging to Youssef to be unnecessary and offensive. The call apparently reveals Al-Naggar telling Youssef that he has succeeded in stealing four hard drives from computers found in the State Security offices but had not been able to find material allegedly relating to Youssef.

Ali said that this part of the call had come within a part relating to security discussions and it could not be cut because this would appear as if the tape had been manipulated.

“I am revealing the traitors and agents of foreign countries,” Ali told the Weekly, adding that he had received death threats and his office had been subjected to damage during Morsi’s tenure as president.

“A friend warned me to take care because I had uncovered the second agent of the United States Central Intelligence Agency [CIA] in Egypt,” Ali said. “But I didn’t care. I was not afraid. My life is in the hands of God.”

Ali described claims that he was an agent for the State Security as an attempt to blacken his reputation, adding that the claims were of course “completely unfounded”. Working as a researcher into the Islamist movements, he said, had enabled him to meet the heads of the Security Services and to take information from them.

“If I did not sit with these people, where could I get the required information for my research,” he asked. “How could I do my work? I am working on files concerning terrorism, the Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Qaeda. Hence, I have to deal with both sides in order to do balanced research. The authorities are my sources, as are the Brotherhood and other Islamist movements.”

 “I am sorry to say that some activists and media and political figures who signed a petition against airing these recordings were not objective and have double standards,” Ali said. Without mentioning names, some of them had asked him not to air the recordings that included a relative, friend or a member of their political parties, he said, but he had felt obliged to let the truth come out.

“When I refused to do as they wanted, they signed a petition to the president along with others condemning airing the recordings and considering it to be a criminal act,” Ali said.

According to Ali, he still has other recordings ready to broadcast. “I still have a lot to reveal,” Ali said, adding that he had important recordings of Morsi’s calls that showed how he had been involved in the clashes outside Al-Ittihadiya palace in Cairo. There were also recordings of calls made by Brotherhood leader Khairat Al-Shater to Syrian groups, by Brotherhood supreme guide to Hamas, and of activist Mohamed Al-Baradei to various other activists.

Ali said that in his calls Al-Baradei had spoken negatively about the revolution’s symbols, describing the Egyptian people as “idiots” and “ignorant”. He also said that he had recordings documenting events before the 2012 presidential elections, showing what had really happened. 

Ali told the Weekly that he would not reveal what he had in detail because he preferred to wait until the appropriate time. But he did assert that the judicial board in charge of the 2012 elections had not played its proper role and that the calls had indicated that Ahmed Shafik had in fact been the winner of the elections and not Morsi.

“The investigations will reveal this soon too,” he said.

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