Hamada Saber became a celebrity in February 2012, when he defended the Ministry of Interior after a video surfaced of police officers stripping him naked and dragging him across the street outside the Ettehadiya presidential palace.
The incident struck a chord and was considered a symbol of the humiliation of Egyptian citizens, who not only get brutally assaulted but are too scared to accuse their perpetrators. After initially blaming the police for the assault, Saber ended up going on TV to reverse his testimony, saying the police were helping him out and the violence was his own fault for resisting them.
However, “Al Mondass” (The Infiltrator), a documentary by Emad Eddin al-Sayyed screened earlier this month on Al Jazeera, reveals that there was more to the story.
The film’s protagonist, activist Mohannad Galal, shows that Saber’s tongue was not tied only by fear but also due to a lengthy collaboration with police forces, who seem to have attacked him by mistake.
During the past three years, Galal has infiltrated the lines of state-serving civilians, seen aiding the military and police in confrontations with protesters and attacking anti-regime demonstrations.
By accumulating a large database of pictures and video, Galal was able to establish two facts: There is a degree of organization to those seen attacking protesters, and they are closely tied to the state. Often dubbed “honorable citizens,” until now they have been largely dismissed as angry neighborhood residents acting spontaneously.
Galal dug up from his archive photos of Saber with former Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman after a meeting held in 2011. The documentary also shows a video of Saber with Hosni Mubarak’s supporters during the former president’s trial at the police academy. And most astonishingly, it shows pictures of Saber fighting alongside police during clashes with protesters in Cairo’s Mohamed Mahmoud Street in November 2011.
The film offers a rare insight into one of the most mysterious aspects of street movement in the last three years. Very often, a peaceful protest turns violent and the initiation of violence is blamed on “invisible hands,” a group or groups that remain unidentified.
“The Infiltrator” documents a one-man effort to enter this world, which through extremely risky reporting and serious archiving has led to valuable revelations.
An hour long, it has a detective style, alternating between interviews with Galal narrating his journey, photographs, footage from his hidden cameras, and drawings to recreate some of the scenes that he describes.
Galal’s findings were in the spotlight once before. This was in October 2011 following the tragic attack on a march demanding Christians’ rights that killed over 20 people, mostly run over by military trucks outside the state television building, Maspero. By joining security forces, Galal was able to film civilians chasing and beating up Christians in the street under the watch of military forces.
The footage made it onto several talk shows.
In “The Infiltrator” Galal explains that after experimenting with being on the other side during the Maspero massacre he started devising a more organized approach.
He created fake social media accounts to keep track of these groups’ movements, and then showed up to their gatherings and protests with hidden cameras. Later, he used software to identify the faces that are repeatedly present at different events, whether civilians or security personnel.
In one of the most striking stories chronicled in the film, Galal follows one of the police-helping citizens, Ahmed Abdel Ghany, over several months. Galal shows a picture on the Ministry of Interior’s Facebook group of Abdel Ghany arrested in possession of weapons and labeled as a Muslim Brotherhood member in November 2013. This was apparently a mistake that was corrected when he was released a month later, as reported by news websites that called him an “activist.” Abdel Ghany then posted friendly pictures of himself with police officers on his personal Facebook page. And if that wasn’t proof enough, he is seen in a YouTube video vowing to take revenge on the general who arrested him, asserting that police officers tried to prevent his arrest by telling the general “he’s with us.”
The timing of the documentary’s release has led to accusations that it is politically motivated, with some accusing Galal of being a Brotherhood sympathizer out to tarnish the image of the military. However, it’s hard to place a political spin on the film when it is not exactly flattering toward any of the consecutive regimes.
According to his personal Facebook page, Galal now lives in Qatar. It is unknown whether his move is tied to fears of being arrested. But in the film he says that revealing his identity has a price and hopes that it teaches people that there are different ways in which they can serve the revolution.
Galal was able to sneak two hidden cameras into the presidential palace during former President Mohamed Morsi’s rule when he requested a meeting with officials to ask for help in catching those who started violence during protests. He says the lack of security measures at the palace made him realize that day that the new Muslim Brotherhood leadership had failed to officiate its power.
While many have speculated about coordination between police and civilians, Galal puts together bits and pieces collected over a long time period to create a crystal clear image with no room for doubt.