Egypt whistleblower: Torture chambers were small projects I didn’t work on

Egyptian whistleblower Mohamed Ali told MEMO that he built the part of the intelligence headquarters where the cyber army was housed. Adding that the “bigger” construction companies – like his – were charged with developing government buildings, hotels and malls.

Torture rooms and prisons were projects given to small companies as they were “not technical”, he added, stressing that he did not have a hand in building such units.

We built an extension to that building which was 4-6 floors high from what I recall. This extension, I found out later, was used to house a cyber army.

In October a series of cyberattacks attempted to hack the emails and phones of Egyptian rights activists, journalists, academics, lawyers and politicians. The central server used in the attack was registered to the Egyptian Ministry of Communications and Information Technology.

According to the cybersecurity firm Check Point the government targeted 33 individuals through apps posing as information services but which actually bugged their phones.

Since 2014, the Egyptian government has developed a mass surveillance system to monitor social media including private messages. At the time the Interior Ministry ignited outrage when it called for a limited tender for software to monitor internet activity.

In 2018 Egypt’s parliament passed a law which saw social media users, blogs and personal websites which have more than 5,000 followers to be governed in the same way as media outlets, thus risk being blocked and banned by the state.

During the September protests inspired by Ali, authorities disrupted access to social media and messaging platforms. Of the thousands arrested many were accused of spreading false news via social media.

Mohamed Ali: ‘Constructing prisons is a very lucrative business’