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State of insecurity at Egypt's Ministry of Interior

Massive reshuffle and the removal of officers accused of killing protesters is just the tip of problems engulfing the ministry as it battles with the prime minister and itself over reform

Ahmed Eleiba, Wednesday 13 Jul 2011
police.
Egyptian riot police throw stones at demonstrators during clashes close to the interior ministry in Cairo, Egypt, early Wednesday, June 29, 2011. (Photo: AP)
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The Egyptian Ministry of Interior today implemented the largest reshuffle of its officers since the outbreak of January 25 Revolution.

Most significantly, Major-General Magdy Abdel-Ghaffar, former vice president of the now dismantled State Security Intelligence, succeeded Major-General Hamid Abdullah, first assistant secretary of the ministry, to the newly formed National Security Administration, who has reached retirement age.

A senior high level source from the ministry told us that the ministry has not yet announced the name of the new minister of interior to succeed Mansour El-Essawi, who is almost certain to leave his post in the cabinet reshuffle that Prime Minister Essam Sharaf is expected to implement in the next few days .

The source believes that the new minister is expected to be a military figure from outside the ministry, which is fraught with crisis and chaos at the moment.

The same source blamed the prime minister for the problems that have plagued the ministry in recent months. “Sharaf is looking for scapegoats to abdicate his responsibility for ongoing problems,” the source said.

The Egyptian Cabinet has not denied rumours that the next minister of interior might be a military man. But the source also stressed that General Mohsen El-Fangari, one of the main spokespeople for the ruling military council who delivered a key council speech yesterday on national television, will not be appointed.

The source also revealed that the ongoing process of searching for a new minister to replace El-Essawi has been complicated by a number of crises taking place inside the ministry of interior itself.

First, the source indicated, most officers in the Central Security Forces, the Egyptian riot police, are livid because Sharaf decided to dismiss officers accused of killing protesters during the early days of the revolution without court trials.

These officers are also infuriated that the government went first after their commander, General Ahmed Ramzi, and not Mubarak or former minister of interior Habib El-Adly, when under popular pressure to prosecute those who murdered protesters.

Consequently, our source said, many of these riot police officers lack any motivation to go back out on the streets to do their job.

Second, a sharp feud between Sharaf and El-Essawi is clouding the whole search for a new minister. For once, the prime minister did not even inform his own minister of interior of the decision to dismiss officers accused of murder before he announced it publicly. Meanwhile, the minister of interior threatened publicly to resign if officers were dismissed without fair trials in courts.

The source confirms that tensions between the two men have reached high levels in recent weeks.

At one point, several days ago, Sharaf reportedly admonished El-Essawi for not doing enough to contain sectarian tension in El-Aayat in Upper Egypt. “We clearly have no minister of interior here,” Sharaf is said to have told El-Essawi in anger.

Meanwhile, certain parties circled the name of the current commander of the Egyptian military police, which is the main arm of the military council in ruling the country since February, as a possible candidate for the Ministry of Interior job.

Yet, according to our source, the army might be unwilling to appoint a military man as minister of interior for a number of reasons.

First, the ruling military council might not want to give the public an impression that it wants to play an ever-increasing role in administering the country’s day to day affairs. Moreover, the army, by its very nature, prefers to stay away from tasks that usually cause friction with the general public on a daily basis.

In any case, the army believes that it is equipped to intervene from the outside to contain any incidents of “public disorder” without necessarily having to control internal security apparatuses.

In fact, the source said, the army’s Military Intelligence continues to closely monitor the actual pulse on the Egyptian street.

Meanwhile, security apparatuses in the Ministry of Interior are still mired in archaic habits such as collecting data on performance levels of different government agencies or information on political activists.

To prove this last point, a source who talked to the minister of interior recently, told us that El-Essawi complained to him that most high level officers in the ministry are not fit to meet the job’s requirements in the current period. As a result, the source said, even some officials in the ministry are demanding that Sharaf appoint a military man to head their beleaguered institution.

On the other hand, Nasser Abdel Hamid, a member of the Revolution Youth Coalition, said that his group has asked Sharaf to appoint a civilian as the next minister of interior. He added that all political forces reject the idea of appointing a military figure to that position.

But, the source, stating the obvious, said that the military council, and not Sharaf, will make the final decision in this matter.

In the time being, another source told us, the Ministry of Interior exists in a state of insecurity and that chaos reigns supreme in its corridors.

The source added: “There are individuals inside the ministry who have not yet accepted the fact that a revolution did take place. Changes bigger than simply appointing a new minister are needed in order to reshape the whole thing. There are hawks and doves inside the place. Right now the hawks are still in total control.”

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