Reforming the interior
With public perceptions of a lack of security running high, will Egypt's new minister of the interior be able to overcome the country's challenges, asks Reem Leila
Although Egypt is still in need of the re-establishment of stability and security, many people feel trapped between their demands for security and fears of the kind of police oppression that was the hallmark of the rule of ousted former president Hosni Mubarak.
The appointment of Prime Minister Hisham Qandil two weeks ago did not encourage many people's hopes of change. However, Qandil's choice of Ahmed Gamaleddin as the new minister of the interior has been a controversial one and has surprised many political analysts and security experts, with some believing that he could be the right man to restore security.
Gamaleddin, formerly an assistant to the minister of the interior and head of security with special responsibility for information, was sworn in as minister on 2 August. His appointment came against a background of widely publicised incidents that apparently testified to a lack of security in the country.
On the same day as Gamaleddin's swearing in, clashes broke out at the Orascom Nile City Towers overlooking the Nile in Cairo when thugs attacked the Fairmont Hotel located in one of the towers and demanded money. People were threatened with knives, and the hotel's security confronted the attackers. One of the thugs was killed, and several others were injured.
One day later, residents of Al-Tor City in South Sinai protested in front of the city's security department about attacks by thugs, lax security and the absence of the police.
One day before Gamaleddin was sworn in, sectarian clashes erupted in Dahshour in Giza, continuing on 3 August and leading to the evacuation of 120 Coptic families. The clashes had begun following a dispute between a Muslim man and a Christian man. One Muslim resident was killed and several others were injured, while angry crowds burnt down houses belonging to Christians.
While Gamaleddin faces significant challenges in restoring security to the country, some observers have criticised his appointment, with former MP Mustafa Bakri claiming that Gamaleddin has a poor record of violence against civilians and human rights organisations accusing him of torture.
"Gamaleddin treats citizens roughly. He may even torture people to get the information he wants," Bakri said. As a result, Gamaleddin was not a suitable appointment as minister, Bakri added, since the public wanted to see a new minister with an impeccable background who would be capable of overhauling the Ministry of the Interior.
"It seems that these hopes and dreams have gone by the board as a result of Gamaleddin's appointment," Bakri said. "The minister has been asking for the people's support. But who should be supported -- the people or the police," he asked.
Like the interior ministers of the former regime, "Gamaleddin has said that criminals will be caught and stability will return. The newly appointed interior minister is using the same discourse as his predecessors from the previous regime," Bakri said.
Observers say that Egypt's Ministry of Interior and its agencies are in need of radical change if they are to play their proper role in the new Egypt. According to security expert Sameh Seif El-Yazal, Gamaleddin could be the man to bring back security, since he has significant experience in the field.
"He is a man of strong character, who takes the right decisions at the right time, even if he is unknown to many people," Seif El-Yazal said.
The ministry faces challenges that go back to the beginning of last year at least, among them the perceived rise in criminality and the lack of security. Some observers claim that drug dealers are now selling drugs with impunity, and "more than 10,000 weapons stolen from police stations and prisons have been seized by the police over recent months -- with many more still at large," Seif El-Yazal said.
Traffic jams, accidents and vendors selling in the streets are also challenges facing the new minister. According to Seif El-Yazal, more than 6,000 people died last year in car accidents and at least 45,000 were injured.
Cairo has been suffering from a rash of street vendors, who have been adding to the traffic problems by selling their goods in the streets. "After the 25 January Revolution, the vendors mushroomed, selling their products to the public in the middle of the street and not only on the pavements as was the case in the past. The downtown area is proof of the chaos now facing the country because of the security vacuum," El-Yazal said.
In El-Yazal's view, the police need to be fundamentally reformed. "The new minister should introduce modern security technology and train policemen to use it," he said.
The traffic police should be issued with mobile computers to facilitate their work, as is now the case in the developed countries. "In the past, there wasn't any intention on the part of officialdom to develop the police apparatus, as they preferred to work according to the old system," Seif El-Yazal said, arguing that reform was now sorely needed.
Since last year's revolution, the perception has been that crime has been rising, with thugs taking advantage of the security vacuum. The police may also have been reluctant to take firm action against the criminals out of fears that they might be accused of brutality as a result, Seif El-Yazal argued.
"The police must be re-equipped, trained and provided with the power to act without fear. The police, as well as the people, need laws that protect both sides and guarantee punishment for anyone who assaults a policeman," he said.