New Egyptian intelligence chief may signal change of course

New Egyptian intelligence chief may signal change of course
The removal of Mohammad Farid el-Tohamy takes out one of the most hawkish figures in the Egyptian leadership, but it is not clear this will see a change of course for Egyptian policy amid an increasingly volatile security situation.
3 min read
21 December, 2014
Imprisoned members of the Muslim Brotherhood display Rabaa signs during their trial in Cairo (Anadolu)
The removal Saturday of Egypt's powerful intelligence chief, a longtime mentor of Egyptian leader Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, could suggest Cairo may be looking to soften a hardline course on dissent that has caused hundreds of deaths, thousands of arrests and seen it rebuked by human rights organisations, western and regional countries.

Gen. Mohammed Farid el-Tohamy, in his mid 60s, was seen as a hardliner in the government crackdown against Islamists as well as secular dissidents.

Tohamy was put in charge of the general intelligence agency immediately after Sisi, then head of the military, led the ouster of the elected President Mohammed Morsi in July 2013. Tohamy was Sisi's mentor when they both served in military intelligence under Hosni Mubarak.

He went on to head one of the most important government financial watchdog agencies, the Administrative Control Authority, where he served until 2012 when Morsi replaced him.

It is not clear if Tohamy's removal reflects a change in policy. However, it removes one of the most senior hawkish voices in Sisi’s administration.

Egypt has been severely criticised for human rights abuses during Sisi’s time in charge. Human Rights Watch and other human rights organisations deemed as a deliberate massacre the killings and disappearance of hundreds of Islamist protestors in Rabaa Square in 2013.

As late as this week, Barack Obama, the US president, expressed his concern over Cairo’s use of mass trials and detentions in silencing dissent.

In early December, a Cairo court sentenced 188 people to death in one judgement on terrorism related charges.

Egypt has also arrested and detained journalists and human rights activists. Three al-Jazeera journalists have languished in Egyptian prison since December 29 last year. Egypt accused them of biased reporting and aiding Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, which Cairo has designated a terrorist organisation.

Several officials said Tohamy was relieved of his post for health reasons, although one official said a desire for "new blood" to deal with an increasingly complex security situation factored into the decision. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because an official announcement has yet to be made.

Retired Gen. Sameh Seif al-Yazal, who remains close to Sisi and the intelligence community, told The Associated Press that Tohamy was recently in the hospital for a hip replacement.

Tohamy returned on Dec. 12 from a trip to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

The new intelligence chief is Khaled Fawzy, a longtime intelligence officer, who headed the national security agency. He will have to deal with an increasingly volatile security situation.

The Egyptian crackdown on dissent has been accompanied by several startlingly bloody attacks on military and security forces, including an attack on the main security headquarters in Cairo, and a couple of attacks on troops in Sinai that killed dozens of soldiers.