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Egypt’s Piggipedia: Transparency as Resistance

March 11, 2011

The Piggipedia group pool is only one of many sites to which protesters are uploading names and photographs of hated state security personnel.

The power of the Internet as a platform for creative resistance continues to be demonstrated in Egypt. One of the latest manifestations is the Piggipedia, a flickr “group pool” to which are being uploaded the photographs and names of members of the state security forces “so that they can be brought to trial.”

Piggipedia began before the Jan. 25 uprisings, one of several initiatives intended to disrupt the practices through which the regime put down protests and anti-regime activities. The idea, according to one of the organization’s founders, was that “in every single event, demonstration or strike we have to snap at least one photo of the police officers, corporals, and plainclothes thugs present. We have to profile them, put their faces on the web and circulate their photos.”

He continues:

A State Security officer cannot spend the day electrocuting the balls of a detainee and inserting a stick up someone else’s ass and then just simply go out in the weekend with his kids to the park peacefully, or have shisha in a public coffee shop, while those around think of him as a “normal” human being. These are dangerous torturers and rapists whom we do not want as neighbors or friends. They have to be exposed in front of their children, parents, neighbors and peers.

The invasion of the state security offices last weekend produced a treasure trove. On another flickr page, an author explains:

When we stormed State Security Police headquarters in Nasr City, which hosted one of Mubarak’s largest torture facilities, on Saturday I found two DVDs in one of the offices, both titled “أرشيف السادة ضباط الجهاز ” The Agency Officers’ Archive.” The DVDs included profile pictures of State Security officers, organized in folders.

While the prime minister calls for state security to be restructured, and promises it will only be used to combat terrorism and drug trafficking, these activists insist that “[e]ach member of SS has to be brought to justice. This was an agency devoted to spying, surveillance, torture and murder. Every member of this organization from the informer all the way up to the generals should be prosecuted. SS has to be dissolved.”

This is an act of resistance on several levels.

First, it is turnabout. Members of the state security apparatus who spied on, and kept files on the people of Egypt on behalf of the regime, are now themselves the subjects of a gaze.And it kept a lot of files on a lot of people. The New York Times reported today,

Even for young activists who knew they were being monitored, the level of detail has been sobering: one found a picture of herself at a party; another discovered transcripts of text messages exchanged with her husband; a third leafed through a biography of his famous grandfather, a former Brotherhood leader.

But Piggipedia and its ilk offer an inverted turning of the tables, since it replaces secrecy with public scrutiny, or at least the possibility of it. Nor was the security apparatus unaware of this; among the documents seized in state security offices was one describing the “piggipedia threat.” It is posted on 3arabawy’s blog here.

Finally, this is an act of resistance against efforts by the current regime to “restructure” state security and reincorporate it back into the government structure. Not only does it raise a voice in protest, but by exposing the officers, it makes it more difficult for such a restructuring to work, since the experienced officers who would need to be reintegrated into the new command structure are identifiable and, in some cases, accused of specific heinous acts (one cannot call them crimes as the government has not yet lifted the emergency laws).

New report on Piggipedia: read my June sequel post here.

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