Sabri Nakhnoukh: Key thug lifts lid on Mubarak-era poll rigging

Sherif Tarek , Tuesday 28 Aug 2012

Accused of arranging attacks on protesters and ballot-rigging during the Mubarak era, Sabri Nakhnoukh claims his arrest represents an attempt by the Muslim Brotherhood to settle old scores

Sabri Nakhnoukh
Mubarak-era thug Sabri Nakhnoukh (Photo: Internet)

The regime of former president Hosni Mubarak relied on various state security apparatuses to maintain its monopoly of power.

But the interior ministry run by former minister Habib El-Adly depended on more than simply troops and policemen to defend the National Democratic Party (NDP)'s monopoly of power; it is also believed to have cultivated relationships with so-called thugs.

While anti-Mubarak political activists often felt the full force of state violence, as the police deployed force against political demonstrations and detained them in the name of law and order, these thugs were able to accomplish things the police could not, namely managing electoral fraud.  

Just as every governmental body has a chairman, Sabri Nakhnoukh was at the top of the thug network. Over a year and a half after the collapse of the system that he was allegedly an integral part of, Nakhnoukh was finally arrested.

The 49-year-old's lavish villa in the upscale King Mariout area of Alexandria was raided after he was charged with thuggery, unlicensed possession of weapons, drugs possession, and involvement in the prostitution business.

With investigations still underway, it is yet to be seen whether or not his arrest will herald the fall of organised thuggery in Egypt.

Love NDP, hate the Brotherhood

An incredibly wealthy and well-connected gangster, Nakhnoukh does not like to be referred to as a thug. Nonetheless, he proudly admits his major role in orchestrating previous parliamentary elections in favour of the NDP.

It was Nakhnoukh's men who used to deny the opposition – especially the then-banned Muslim Brotherhood – proper representation in parliament, while the police would turn a blind eye to their blatant, usually violent electoral violations.

Curiously, Nakhnoukh believes that deploying swathes of male and female thugs to forcibly prevent anti-NDP voters from casting ballots, and to rig votes in order to grant the NDP a regular clean sweep, was a "patriotic" task.

By preserving the NDP's political dominance and leaving negligible percentages of parliamentary seats for the opposition, Nakhnoukh says that he was helping authorities keep the country on an even keel.

In an interview conducted by Egypt's state-run newspaper Al-Akhbar after his arrest, he said: "I don't deny my close relationship with Habib El-Adly [Mubarak's notorious interior minister], but that was backed by patriotic motives.

"Officials in the Mubarak era did not like to see opposition figures win [seats in] the elections, especially the Muslim Brotherhood. Because of my connections and because all my men love me, El-Adly would ask me to block polling stations.

"As a favour to the country I was doing it for free - out of love, nothing more.

"I would bring men and women in large numbers to prevent the Brotherhood's supporters from even entering polling stations, by picking fights with them. I also know a lot of microbus owners, so they would transport my men from one polling station to the other to rig votes.

"It was all done based on instructions and directives, in order for the country to remain on the right track. I'm no thug…I was helping maintaining the stability of the country."


The Brotherhood suffered from state oppression in those days, but the Islamic group have turned the tables on the former regime after the uprising which led to the ouster of Mubarak in February 2011, and have managed to capture decisive majorities in the now-dissolved post-revolution parliament, as well as the presidency itself.

Nakhnoukh makes no secret of his hatred for the Brotherhood. He is convinced that he was arrested this month because the now-powerful group is trying to take revenge on him for being a former adversary.

"What is happening is that they are trying to settle the score, because I am considered to be one of the previous regime and the [now-dismantled] NDP," he told Al-Arabiyya television channel.

"The case has political dimensions. It was clear when [leading Brotherhood figure Mohamed] El-Beltagy brought up my name on television…So I know that what happened was a favour, whether for El-Beltagy or the new president."

Crimes during the 2011 uprising

Apart from brutal assaults on voters and parliamentary candidates during previous elections, which resulted in hundreds of injuries and dozens of deaths, as in the 2010 polls that were notoriously fraudulent, Nakhnoukh is accused of committing more vicious crimes during the 2011 uprising while supporting the Mubarak regime.

During the 18-day revolt, many Egyptian cities witnessed pervasive organised crime. Vehicles ran people over and pedestrians were reportedly gunned down in drive-by shootings.

Moreover, in the famous Battle of the Camel, protesters in Tahrir Square, the focal point of the January 25 Revolution, were attacked by a small army of thugs.

With one group wielding swords and cudgels mounted on horses and camels, and another throwing Molotov cocktails and supported by snipers from higher locations, this group of armed thugs killed and injured hundreds of demonstrators, but failed to evacuate the square.

These crimes have been linked to Nakhnoukh. Despite bragging about his role organising fraud during parliamentary elections, however, he categorically denies involvement in the Battle of the Camel or killing citizens during the revolt.

Yet Nakhnoukh confirmed that he did help the Mubarak administration in the last few days before its demise.

"I was in the hospital when the revolution erupted and after my release I worked on protecting security directorates from the attacks of protesters," he said. "I had nothing to do with the Battle of the Camel."

Life without thugs

At the time, violent clashes broke out between security forces and protesters all across Egypt, and police personnel opened fire on civilians, killing hundreds in an attempt to halt the uprising.

During the turmoil, police stations and security directorates were attacked, and some were set on fire. Since then, the police force has not been operating effectively, and Egypt has been suffering from a chronic security vacuum.

Mahmoud Qotri, a former brigadier general who wrote a book about possible radical police reforms after retiring from the force, reckons that interior ministry-affiliated hoodlums used to control security during the repressive rule of Mubarak.

Now, after the overthrow of the Mubarak regime, he believes that policemen still do not want to get their hands dirty.

"It was the thugs who were controlling the streets," he told Ahram Online in October 2011. "Most of policemen only handle minor proceedings and paperwork, making their years of training and preparation valueless.

"This is the failed security school of El-Adly, which hasn't been changed yet. Most of them would never jeopardise their lives for the sake of their duties."

It is yet to be seen how the police will operate under General Ahmed Gamal El-Din, Morsi's newly-appointed interior minister, and whether the likes of Nakhnoukh will be kept at bay or will have a hand in Egypt's security.

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