When the whistle blew
Ahmed Morsy reports on the Interior Ministry's efforts to restore security which includes the possible return of the gendarme
For months, the general public has been asking when the police, who fled the streets at the start of last year's January revolt, and have yet to return to full force, will restore law and order. The security breach since the outbreak of the revolution has increased crime rates in the country alarmingly, and a sense of insecurity pervades a large swathe of Egyptians. Complaints regarding the increase in the rate of crime have become the norm, as has the blocking of roads by demonstrators, sectarian strife, armed robbery, and the indiscriminate proliferation of street vendors who are congesting the streets.
However, since the appointment in July of Ahmed Gamaleddin as the new interior minister, campaigns to restore security and maintain order have been launched throughout Egypt.
On 5 September the ministry launched its biggest security crackdown in recent times to clear known criminal spots at Manzala Lake, which overlooks Damietta governorate from the north. On Friday, Gamaleddin led the crackdown himself.
"The campaign was aimed at cleansing the Manzala Lake of criminal elements who have recently increased, constituting a threat to public security and safety of citizens," Gamaleddin said in a press release, noting that the crackdown "began in great secrecy since Wednesday and witnessed bloody clashes between police forces and high-risk criminal elements who used the lake for shelter, taking advantage of its geographically rugged terrain which is full of dense brush.
By Thursday, the campaign had resulted in 31 people being taken into custody and the confiscation of a Grenov cannon with 612 rounds as well as 30 firearms including 14 automatic rifles, 14 pistols and a cartridges rifle. Twenty kilogrammes of cannabis were also seized.
Two escaped convicts who fled during the chaos of the revolution, together with defendants escaping judicial rulings in murder and drug charges were among those arrested in the swoop.
During the past two months, several security campaigns were launched in Egypt's governorates. On 7 and 8 September, the Public Security Sector in coordination with security directorates implemented 15,712 court rulings, the arrest of 13 escaped convicts and the return of 41 stolen cars.
On 6 September, security campaigns in 16 directorates managed to round up 54 firearms, and led to the implementation of 153 other court rulings related to drug offences and 13,513 more court rulings.
While pointing out that recent security statistics showed a noticeable decrease in crime, the minister pledged that more security campaigns would be launched. He said the ministry's agenda went further than criminal offences to problems related to behaviour on Egyptian streets, saying they had a negative impact on Egypt's image.
In this regard, the ministry began a campaign to remove street vendors. "Restoring order in Egypt's streets has become crucial by cracking down on thuggery and increasing security checkpoints," Gamaleddin added. The minister said Egyptians had recently noticed an increase in checkpoints, permanent and temporary, on highways and other roads.
Meanwhile, the Interior Ministry is coordinating with the Justice Ministry to prepare a draft law incorporating harsher penalties for crimes committed against houses of worship, acts of thuggery, smuggling subsidised goods, blocking roads, stealing electric cables and sabotaging public utilities, according to the state-run news agency MENA. The law aims at stopping criminals and helping police restore security, a security source told the agency.
Gamaleddin explained that the new law included provisions to punish offenders and those who disrupt traffic on major public roads, squares and railways. The law also regulates private security firms and money-transfer companies and puts them under the supervision of ministerial bodies.
In a bid to raise citizen awareness about their rights and obligations when dealing with security services and public officials, the ministry is also discussing launching a satellite TV channel.
"It has no commercial purpose," Gamaleddin said. "It would provide services and raise awareness about citizens' rights." In the meantime, security officials are currently examining the possibility of using a broadcast signal on state-owned satellite NileSat.
Gamaleddin said that the channel intends to serve as a line of communication with citizens, and will report on stolen goods and other security issues.
In addition to the security campaigns, according to the ministry's website, there is a plan to bring back gendarmes to patrol neighbourhoods as they did in the past for a more effective security presence. The ministry envisions small police units dispersed in residential areas, equipped with the latest in communications and transportation, allowing rapid movement to the scene of an incident.
Gendarmes used to patrol Egyptian neighbourhoods before the 1952 Revolution, with every gendarme responsible for a block and armed with a shotgun or baton. Their means of communication was merely a whistle used to sound the alarm in nearby blocks.
On improving the security apparatus, presidential spokesman Yasser Ali stressed that President Mohamed Mursi was keen on providing the Interior Ministry with fully equipped vehicles and helicopters in order to facilitate the flow of traffic and maintain security. On Facebook, Ali referred to an agreement recently signed in China concerning the import of police cars.