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Citizen's arrest powers provoke strong debate in Egypt
Controversial announcement by the prosecutor-general was welcomed by some Islamists and criticised by many liberals and leftists
Zeinab El Gundy , Monday 11 Mar 2013
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presidential palace
File photo: Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi supporters beat an opponent, center, during clashes outside the presidential palace, in Cairo (Photo: AP)

The Sunday announcement by Egyptian Prosecutor-General Talaat Abdullah that citizens have the right to arrest "vandals" has caused a firestorm of controversy.

"Egypt's prosecutor-general urges all citizens to exercise the right afforded them by Article 37 of Egypt's criminal procedure law issued in year 1950 to arrest anyone found committing a crime and refer them to official personnel," said a statement issued by the prosecutor-general's office.

Another statement issued on Monday by the prosecutor-general's office said that "the statement of the prosecutor-general did not include granting 'judicial arrest' powers to citizens, but rather granting the judicial arrest to officers as defined officially in the law."

Nevertheless, the statements of the prosecutor-general opened an angry debate about security issues in the face of an ongoing police strike in a number of governorates.  

A number of Islamist political groupings welcomed the initial statement of the prosecutor-general. State news agency MENA reported that Alaa Abu El-Nasr, the secretary-general of Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya's Building and Development Party, praised the move.

"The decision of the prosecutor-general to grant citizens the right to arrest vandals is a correct decision based on the law," Abu El-Nasr told the media.

"The decision comes as a first step to confront systematic violence in Egypt," said El-Nasr.

"Political powers have the right to have their own police force, to fight crimes in the street," said Nazer Gharab, a member of Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya on Monday morning during an interview broadcast on CBC channel.

Gharab added that the ultra-conservative Islamist group would found its own "Islamist" police force to restore order in the street.

The group has already declared that it will form popular committees in order to aid the ministry of interior and to restore order in cities, given the ongoing police strike.

On the other hand, the Freedom and Justice Party, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, rejected the idea of citizens' arrests.

Hussein Ibrahim, the secretary-general of the FJP, issued a statement to the media on Monday stating that the party believes that the role of police cannot be carried out by any other institution than the police.

"The people should not help the police more than is clearly stated by the law," said Ibrahim.

During clashes at the presidential palace in December last year, Morsi's supporters and Muslim Brotherhood members detained and reportedly tortured some anti-Morsi protesters, before handing them over to the authorities.

Hours later the East Cairo prosecutor office ordered their release after finding them innocent. Some of the detainees were not actually protesters but passers-by and residents of the area.

The fear that citizens' arrest powers may give rise to political militias led many to reject the idea.

A military source told Ahram Online that this decision could promote the army to "intervene."

"This move would open the door to the formation of private militias and raise the spectre of civil war," said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"The statements of the prosecutor-general regarding granting citizens arrest powers are a clear attempt to legalise the militias of the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists on the streets and to give them the right to arrest citizens, which puts Egypt on the verge of a civil war and ends the state of law."

The Socialist Popular Alliance Party announced its rejection of the prosecutor's statements as well on Monday, giving examples of how that power could be used to attack political and ideological opponents.

A number of other opposition parties and movements also reacted strongly to the announcement.

Khaled El-Masry, the official spokesperson of the 'Ahmed Maher Front' of the 6 April Youth Movement stated that: "The movement will stand against any law or legislation that grants citizens' arrest powers to groups or committees, or private security companies."

The liberal Wafd Party also rejected the call of the prosecutor-general. In an interview on Al-Arabiya channel on Sunday, official spokesperson and law expert Abdullah El-Moghazy stated that granting citizens the right to arrest suspects gives a political cover to Islamist militias who have a history of violence. 

"As a legal expert I believe the prosecution's decision is a violation of the constitution and of criminal law," El-Moghazy said.

There were also concerns expressed by the tourism industry.

"Many tourist agents called me in alarm regarding this news," the head of the Egyptian Coalition to Support Tourism, Ehab Moussa, told Ahram Online.

"There is concern that citizen's policing will lead to the mistreatment and blackmail of tourists," Moussa said, giving examples of how merchants could use this power to force tourists to buy merchandise. 

Reformist judge Ahmed Abo Shosha gave another legal perspective to the debate.

"Article 37 is not a new thing; it has clear criminal procedures on how citizens could arrest a defendant accused of a crime, if the punishment for that crime in the law is no less than one year in prison," said Abo Shosha. 

"The only case in which a citizen is allowed to hand over another citizen is if the latter was caught in act of committing a crime or felony; then he should be caught and handed over to the authorities," said the reformist judge, who warned that if citizens arrested or detained other citizens for crimes that would be penalised with less than a year's detention, they could be accused of illegal arrest. 





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giapunes
12-03-2013 05:49pm
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it is allowed in many countries - 2
In Italy, where i am from, it is allowed for an ordinary citizen to arrest someone if the criminal is caught committing crimes such as stealing, killing, raping and so on. I think it is a good law. I hope that in Egypt it will not be a free pass for harassing anyone who wears in a way considered impolite: it should be about serious crimes, that's all.
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rudi
12-03-2013 09:44am
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Fool
Issue here the liberalist and secularis try to distabilise the country and sadly they were supported by newspaper eg AO.
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ana
12-03-2013 08:58am
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fantastic idea!
yeah...in no way possible can this power ever be abused for personal gain by average Egyptians, whom i'm sure will use their excellent judgement and polished logic....
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Safa
12-03-2013 08:58am
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Brotherhood's frustration over weakening of their fascist power grab
Talaat Abdullah must be a mad man engulfed in 7th century obscurantism! Or, just enraged by citizen's demonstrations against brotherhood's fascist power grab. Thank God the army is there.
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Nora
12-03-2013 01:25am
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it is allowed in most countries
Common Law enables anyone in the US to arrest another where the accuser demonstrates a valid cause of action against the accused. While the arrest by a commoner has its roots in British Common Law, the authority of arrest by anyone was originally absorbed into American Law via the strict construction found in American Organic Laws.
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Roslyn Ann
12-03-2013 12:57am
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Responsible or Irresponsible!
Doaa you have quoted extreme cases, instead of thinking about what this means in a general context....however it is a shame that those who witnessed the rapes in Tahrir didn't share your point of view, and why only limited to churches and mosques, of course if someone is setting fire to any public building, business or private home, every citizen should intervene, surely that is taken for granted, however giving 'responsible' citizens the right to arrest anyone for a perceived crime would lead to chaos and maybe even civil war, as unfortunately in a divided society there maybe some of those amongst us who are 'irresponsible' and invent or exaggerate a crime for revenge, religious or an abundant of unjust reasons.
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Doaa
11-03-2013 09:52pm
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we must be responsible citizens
In a certain sense, every Egyptian must be a policeman. As a citizen, I will not be indifferent if I see a rapist attack a woman, or watch some one trying to torch Al-Azhar or a Mosque or a Church.
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Kevin
12-03-2013 04:16pm
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What about...
What about a single female tourist that gets arrested for wearing clothing that shows too much skin? Does she get shaken down for a 500LE fine on the spot by the person arresting her? This is not going to bode well for tourism if tourist are being arrested for no reason but to extort a "fine" from their wallet. Egypt is not a tourist friendly country.
Ibrahim
12-03-2013 07:46am
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Re: we must be responsible citizens
I think the main problem is the systematic attacks on government and non governemnt building and the terrorising of citizens where the police is standing idle or at least struggling to contain these groups who seems to be getting top orders to carry on their openness to topple the current government even by force.

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