Friday,20 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1139, 14 - 20 March 2013
Friday,20 July, 2018
Issue 1139, 14 - 20 March 2013

Ahram Weekly

Playing the security card

The prosecutor-general’s decree granting citizens arrest powers has thrown the spotlight on the growing security vacuum, Gamal Essam El-Din reports

Al-Ahram Weekly

When Islamist President Mohamed Morsi was elected at the end of June last year he said restoring security on the streets was his top priority. Eight months later Egypt is in the grip of a severe security crisis.

The non-Islamist opposition, led by the secular National Salvation Front (NSF), has accused Morsi and his interior minister, Mohamed Ibrahim, of pursuing brutal security policies that have not only caused violent confrontations to skyrocket, swamping several governorates, but also provoked many central security forces to strike. Striking security personnel say they are being manipulated to serve the political interests of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood rather than serving the nation as a whole. Many of them also accuse Ibrahim of acting as the Muslim Brotherhood’s interior minister and insist on his dismissal.

On 10 March Talaat Abdallah, the prosecutor-general appointed by Morsi in violation of the judicial sovereignty law, issued a controversial order granting citizens the right to arrest “provocateurs and saboteurs” in accordance with Article 37 of Egypt’s criminal procedures law of 1950. The article authorises citizens to arrest anyone suspected of committing a crime or a violent act and to refer them to the security authorities. Abdallah’s order was issued after thousands of central security forces said they would not allow themselves to be dragged in political battles between Morsi and the opposition.

Abdallah’s order gave the NSF an opportunity to grill Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. In a statement on Monday the NSF said “the order of Morsi’s prosecutor-general places Egypt on the verge of civil war.”

Amr Moussa says “the prosecutor-general’s order has exposed Morsi’s failure to restore security and raises question marks about the capacity of the regime to manage domestic affairs.”

The Wafd Party, another force under the NSF umbrella, says “the security vacuum in Egypt exposes Morsi’s failure to reach a consensus with political forces to promote political solutions to Egypt’s problems.”

Mohamed Abul-Ghar, chairman of the Egyptian Democratic Socialist Party, denounced the prosecutor-general’s order as providing “the armed militias of Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist forces with political cover to arrest leaders of revolutionary political movements and act as a security force... opening the door to turning Egypt into another Somalia”.

The military also denounced the prosecutor-general’s order as placing Egypt on the brink of civil war.

On Monday, a day after Ibrahim’s controversial order, a handful of people, believed to be members of Muslim Brotherhood, arrested a number of political activists and referred them to Cairo’s Moqattam police station. They charged that the activists — members of the Constitution Party founded by NSF Chairman Mohamed Al-Baradei and the 6 April Movement — were in Moqattam to torch the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP). The activists say they were in Moqattam to watch a football match in a café when they were forced into a car by Brotherhood militias and taken to Moqattam police station.

During December’s clashes in front of the presidential palace Brotherhood supporters attacked demonstrators, tortured them and then handed them over to prosecution authorities. Hours later prosecutors declared the vast majority innocent of any wrongdoing. 

Talaat’s order was welcomed by Islamist forces. Assem Abdel-Maged, of Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya’s Reconstruction and Development Party, said he was keen to exercise its right to fight saboteurs. Abdel-Maged, who was convicted of having a hand in assassinating late president Anwar Al-Sadat, said Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya intends to set up “popular committees” across Upper Egypt to fight vandalism on the streets.

Deteriorating security conditions in Egypt were the subject of heated debate in the Shura Council this week. FJP officials lauded Ibrahim’s order, insisting it would combat vandalism.

Ezzeddin Al-Komi, FJP official and deputy chairman of the Shura Council’s Human Rights Committee, claimed Tahrir Square had become a hotbed of armed gangs.

“It is deplorable that opposition forces give these gangs political cover to attack Central Security Forces,” said Al-Komi. He slammed police officers and soldiers who decided to organise a strike saying they “must be punished and replaced by popular committees to fight crime and violence on the street”.

FJP officials claimed a conspiracy is being plotted against President Morsi.

FJP member Hassan Youssef claimed “some political forces are giving money to saboteurs as part of grand conspiracy aimed at toppling Egypt’s legitimate president.”

Tarek El-Sihari, the Nour Party member and deputy chairman of the Shura Council, warned that “the conspiracy theory must not be used as an excuse for the government’s failure to stem the tide of chaos and impose order on the street.”

On the evening of 10 March a delegation from the Shura Council’s National Security Committee met with Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim. According to committee chairman Reda Fahmi, Ibrahim said the extent of the police strike was greatly exaggerated. “No more than two per cent of police forces in Egypt are striking, and I expect them to return to work very soon.”

On 11 March Central Security officers said they would not participate in safeguarding the headquarters of Muslim Brotherhood and affiliated FJP offices. An informed source quoted officers saying “we will not be used as a repressive tool against the people.”

Meanwhile, Omar Salem, minister of state for parliamentary affairs, told the Shura Council on 11 March that prosecutor-general Ibrahim never called for citizens to make arrests. “Prosecutor Talaat simply talked about Article 37 of the criminal procedures law which has been in place since 1990. The media inflated this to drive a wedge between him and the public.”

“This article gives ordinary citizens the right to arrest anyone they catch red-handed committing a crime,” said Salem. “This does mean citizens have the power to arrest other citizens involved in crimes.”

Hassan Yassin, assistant to the prosecutor-general, says “Ibrahim issued his order after watching television coverage of attackers seeking to torch police stations and clubs, press organizations and hotels.”

“The prosecutor-general simply asked citizens to exercise their legal right to combat saboteurs and bullying acts.”

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