Having graduated from the academy in 1990, Yossr Abdel Hadi was placed in the special forces. The first cases he worked were drug related, but by 1991 his unit was focused on violent Islamist groups, strengthened by experience and equipment brought back by jihadis returning from Afghanistan where they had been fighting the Soviet occupation. He described how his unit would be sent after targets named by the State Security Investigations Service.
Sometimes, he says, their mission was to capture, sometimes to kill. He describes a mission where he says his unit killed one such target in his sleep, walked up 13 flights of stairs so their target wouldn't hear the lift. This, he felt comfortable with, saying “we found a Magnum and a machine-gun under his pillow. And if we didn't kill him in his sleep he could have killed us all.”
He was bothered, however, when in 1992, the then interior minister, Abdel Halim Moussa, gave orders Abdel Hadi says resulted in many targets who could have been safely arrested being killed on the spot instead.
He was also alarmed by the way the net of suspects was constantly widened. His unit would be sent to raid addresses on flimsy intelligence, “they would sometimes send us to the wrong apartment, wrong floor, wrong building, or even the wrong street.”
Mass arrests also became common. “One time I had a prisoners truck with about 30 people inside”, he says, then recounted sitting in the back, and having one man whose sincerity he could “touch” tell him that he had been arrested for nothing more than growing a beard and praying.
Another memory that sticks with him is raiding the home of a college student, suspected of links to Islamists. He told us, “We could hear the father and mother and children, and they were chatting. My superior officer ordered me to break in the door. I suggested to ring the bell, but he insisted I should break in, so I did.”
A chaotic scene ensued with the father of the family castigating his son for soiling their good name only a week before the wedding of his sister. The only evidence seized in the raid was some Islamist literature found under the students bed, Abdel Hadi described them as “entry level religious books, nothing suspicious as they looked like regular books you can buy off the street.”
By then, he says, he “couldn't tell which was the good side and which was the bad,” and he asked to be transferred. He ended up first in Ismailia and then in Suez's infamous police station known as “Arba'een” (Forty), which has become a focus of popular anger, coming under repeated attack since the revolution began in January. He described it as “a strange world, it had its own laws, and techniques, and people getting electrified.”
From Suez he was transferred to the Red Sea town of Hurghada, where he worked in environmental protection. He told us of discovering illegal land reclamations by developers, which destroyed rare coral reefs. He claims he presented this evidence to his superiors but found that the developer's connections meant prosecution was impossible.
After moving to Cairo, where he continued to work as an explosives detective, he said he encountered more unprofessionalism and corruption, such as officers using soldiers, probably conscripts, as a source of labor for performing renovations on their homes, and other inappropriate ways.
He also says that during the initial 18 day uprising against Mubarak, who he had once admonished his daughter for criticizing, he had felt compelled to take the side of the revolutionaries, and attempted to take medical supplies to Tahrir Square. This effort, he said, was thwarted by regime thugs, who he claims work in close concert with the police.
It was only during the latest round of clashes that he actually made it to the square. He arrived in uniform and while there, he says he gave an interview to journalist Moataz Matar of El-Modern Horreya, which was later aired by the network. He complained however that the aired statement omitted his critical message to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces that:
Despite his stance, the reaction of many revolutionaries has been marked by severe reservations. Some suspect him of ulterior motives, or simply have too much built up animosity towards the police to accept one from their ranks as a comrade.
After a period he says lasted ten hours, he was asked to leave the square by a group of activists who feared his presence could lead to conflict. He reception has been different from others Abdel Major Tamer Badr, Captain Ahmed Shoman, and Captain Amr Metwally, who all recently left their posts in the armed forces to joined the square.
Officer Abdel Hadi's life has clearly taken its toll on him, and he told al-Akhbar that he suffers from depression.
His decision to speak out came at the height of the protests calling for the transition of executive power to a presidential council or “national salvation government” to manage the transition to democracy. It was under such a government he hoped he would be able to serve again, and hopefully even be involved in reforming the force.
The apparent loss of momentum suffered by the protests in Tahrir during the elections and the adjacent days make his situation even more precarious. Despite this, he refuses to go into hiding, instead sitting on his balcony, participating in what he calls a one man “sit-in.” He might be physically alone, but he says “in heart and soul” he is with the youth of Tahrir.
Abdel Hadi presented his Police ID to al-Akhbar but his identity could not be independently verified.