Egypt: Will it be the secret policeman’s fall?

President Hosni Mubarak’s shuffling of the Egyptian cabinet while Cairo burns, has all the appearance of rearranging deckchairs on a doomed Titanic. Yet, despite the protests, he may still survive.

If he were to go, who would replace him? His son, the just as unpopular Gamal?  The Muslim Brotherhood? Mohamed ElBaradei? Or Omar Suleiman, intelligence chief and new vice-President?

Whatever the outcome of this week’s events across Egypt, any administration genuinely wishing to bring the country out of chaos must urgently address the chronic violation of human rights which has plagued the nation under Mubarak.

The jailing of thousands of political prisoners has been hallmark of his regime. Bloggers (like Kareem Amer) have been among those who have found themselves locked up for doing what bloggers do.

The cutting of internet and mobile phone services during the protests is just the latest manifestation of the administration’s clear rejection of the right to freedom of speech.

Torture has been rife in Egypt for decades. So much so, that it was the natural location for “war on terror” prisoners like Milan resident Abu Omar to be “rendered” for “outsourced” abuse.

According to journalist Stephen Grey, it was new vice-President Suleiman who was the Egyptian fixer for the US extraordinary rendition “torture flights”. Indeed Grey’s book, Ghost Plane starts with the US-organised rendition and torture of two Egyptian men, in which the Swedish government was also complicit. Grey writes:

[Egypt’s] record both on human rights and on repressing democracy was lambasted annually by both Congress and the State Department.  But in secret, men like Omar Suleiman … did our work, the sort of work that Western countries have no appetite to do themselves.

Mubarak’s willingness to be an ally of the US has ensured that his regime has been on the receiving end of a billion dollars-plus of annual military assistance from Washington. We’ve seen some of it on the news this week.

The F-16 jets swooping to intimidate over Cairo, the M60 Patton tanks of the Republican Guard rolling across Tahrir Square, the ‘Made in the USA’ tear gas canisters fired at protestors.

So, what next? Will the people triumph over the President? And, if the plug is pulled on Mubarak, will Washington back free and fair elections … Or a someone like secret policeman Suleiman for an “orderly transition” to business as usual?

I am the Northern Ireland Programme Director of Amnesty International UK and an occasional human rights blogger at Amnesty Blogs: Belfast & Beyond.

I’m on Twitter at @PatrickCorrigan