The killing of a citizen in a working class district Cairo neighbourhood – Al-Darb Al-Ahmar – at the hands of a low-ranking policeman last week led Egypt's parliament to devote its Sunday morning session to reviewing the performance of the interior ministry.
Although MPs agreed that the ministry should be reformed to allow greater respect for human rights and impose control on the alleged abuses of the security apparatus, they were divided into two camps on how to achieve these goals.
The liberal camp, led by MP Anwar El-Sadat, chairman of the Reform and Development Party, insisted that interior minister Magdi Abdel-Ghaffar should submit resignation.
"As the interior minister has become no longer able to bring the abuses of security personnel under control, he should submit his resignation," said Sadat. "This principle should apply to all cabinet ministers, and not just to the interior minister."
Sadat charged that "while we face tragedies and abuses of human rights in Sinai and outside Sinai every day, we do not see policemen responsible for these tragedies put to account."
Sadat insisted that interior minister Abdel-Ghaffar come to parliament to explain his strategy for reforming the interior ministry and the security apparatus.
"He has to come to explain what legislative amendments will be introduced to contain police abuses," said Sadat.
Samir Ghattas, a political researcher and MP for Cairo's Nasr City district, said that low-ranking policemen who were dismissed from the interior ministry after the 25 January revolution, and were allowed to re-join the ranks of the ministry, have formed a coalition entitled the “Police Ultras.”
"This coalition has become a big danger to the Egyptian state, because its members have gone out of control in the recent two years, giving themselves a free hand to perpetrate all kinds of abuses such as imposing fees on citizens and trading in banned goods without facing any kind of accountability," said Ghattas.
"In 2015 alone, it was reported that low-ranking policemen opened fire on citizens seven times. Shootings have become a phenomenon and we all should stand up to it," he added.
Ghattas stressed that the interior ministry move quickly to bring this "unruly" group of "Police Ultras" under control before they impose their say on the Egyptian state.
"They now aim to score political gains by compelling the state to turn a blind eye to their abuses all the time," said Ghattas.
He said that after the June 2013 mass protests– which put an end to the Muslim Brotherhood rule– citizens demanded that the interior ministry be back in full force to impose the rule of law on streets.
"But now we see that some members of the security apparatus have acquired huge powers and that they are using them to violate the law and abuse the rights of citizens," said Ghattas.
Mostafa El-Guindi, a liberal MP, argued that "the interior ministry was left without any supervision in the last five years because there was no strong parliament."
"The Egyptians revolted against the interior ministry twice, but it has come back again in one year with greater powers than before," said El-Guindi.
Haytham El-Hariri, another leftist MP, said it was good that the interior ministry issued a statement after the killing of the Darb Al-Ahmar citizen, vowing to reform its ranks and impose control on its undisciplined elements.
"But it is bad that this statement has come only after the blood of any ordinary citizen flowed in the street, and after some tried to exploit this blood to step up their political campaign against the regime," said El-Hariri, also agreeing that "the interior ministry should institute a new system aimed at disciplining its low-ranking policemen and improving its image among citizens."
In a statement on Sunday, interior minister Abdel-Ghaffar vowed that legislative amendments will be introduced to prevent any police abuses and ensure that the security apparatus shows complete respect for human rights.
However, a conservative camp of MPs said that while respect for the human rights of citizens should be of utmost priority, they completely reject that some “exploit individual abuses by low-ranking policemen” to tarnish the image of the security apparatus as a whole.
"We see that the majority of police officers respect the law, but the problem lies with this limited sector of low-ranking personnel who serve as assistants to police officers," said businessman Mahmoud Khamis.
Khamis defended the interior ministry strongly, arguing that it played a pivotal role in countering the waves of terrorism that swept Egypt after the removal of former Islamist president Mohamed Morsi from office.
"Official statistics show that only eight low-ranking police personnel – out of a total 400,000 – opened fire on citizens in 2015, this is not a phenomenon," said Khamis, adding that "in America dozens of policemen were convicted of gunning down citizens in the streets."
Outspoken independent MP Mortada Mansour said that "those who call for reforming the interior ministry are in fact trying their best to undermine the Egyptian state."
Mansour, in reference to MP Sadat, who asked interior minister Abdel-Ghaffar to resign, insisted that "some MPs are in fact trying to settle personal accounts with the interior minister, but this comes at the expense of the national interest of Egypt."
Mansour accused Sadat two weeks ago of obtaining "foreign money" to fund his election campaign, also threatening that he would soon sue him.
Mansour also targeted the private media, accusing it of making a "fuss" about the Darb Al-Ahmar incident and trying to use "these individual cases" to launch a smear campaign against the interior ministry.
The chairman of Cairo's popular club Zamalek singled out talk show host Amr Adib, accusing him of exploiting the incident to "inflame the public opinion."
"Adib has gone so far to the extent of describing Egyptians as people who bark like dogs all the time," said Mansour.
Journalist and independent MP Mostafa Bakri also indicated that while there should be complete respect for human rights, the Darb Al-Ahmar incident should not be exploited to undermine the security apparatus.
"We should not open fire on the interior ministry as a whole because the Darb Al-Ahmar incident was the result of a personal fight," said Bakri adding that "in spite of this fact, the president of the republic [Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi] sided with the killed citizen and ordered the interior ministry to discipline its members."
Bakri lamented that "some Egyptian and foreign media outlets exploited the incident, trying their best to reproduce the pre-25 January revolutions' anti-police rhetoric.
"This kind of rhetoric could push the Egyptian state into collapse because some still insist on pouring oil on the fire," he said.
Mohamed Maher, an MP representing the Darb Al-Ahmar district, insisted that "violations of low-ranking police personnel have exceeded all acceptable limits and the Darb Al-Ahmar incident should ring alarm bells."
"I insist that the security apparatus as a whole should be restructured and reformed and that police personnel found guilty of committing abuses be brought to justice," Maher said.
Mohamed Abdel-Ghani, an independent MP, rejected the assumption that "police abuses are just individual cases."
"If you ask citizens, they will tell you that police abuses have become commonplace, and that the interior ministry should reform itself and give a quick apology to the Darb Al-Ahmar families," said Abdel-Ghani.
He did, however, say that he agrees with MPs who warn that the Darb Al-Ahmar incident should not be exploited to defame the interior ministry.
"This ministry has sacrificed a lot to defend this country and we just do not want it to lose its reputation," said Abdel-Ghani.
Female MP Amal Tarabiah agreed that most of the violations and abuses were committed by low-ranking policemen and that senior police officers do not get involved in personal fights with ordinary citizens.
"So the major demand now is that low-ranking policemen be disarmed and face harsh disciplinary measures," said Tarabiah, adding that "new graduates of security personnel who serve as assistants to police officers should study law and human rights and face hard psychological tests before they are allowed to join the security apparatus."
Parliament speaker Ali Abdel-Al decided to close the debate without adopting any of the recommendations proposed by MPs, such as forming an ad hoc parliamentary committee to take charge of overhauling the interior ministry.