Egypt parliament divided over police reforms

Gamal Essam El-Din , Sunday 21 Feb 2016

The parliament speaker ‎closed the debate without adopting any of ‎the recommendations proposed by MPs

Egy parliament
A general view shows members of the Egyptian parliament attending the opening session at the main headquarters of Parliament in Cairo, Egypt, January 10, 2016 (Reuters)

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.

'Unruly group'

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."‎

Legislative amendments 

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.‎

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