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The Interior Ministry reshuffle this week was billed as a way to improve security forces’ performance and efficiency in meeting citizens’ demands.
Rights activists, however, scoffed at the spin on what is perceived to be more of a move to appease the upper echelons of the ministry, with the promotion of one general causing particular ire.
“[President Mohamed] Morsy is trying to appease the senior officers. He needs new methods to face great challenges. These promotions bring nothing new,” says Ahmed Mashaly of the Police Officers Syndicate, which is still being established.
Major General Khaled Ghoraba was appointed the minister’s deputy for the social security sector. Previously serving as Alexandria’s security chief, activists claim Ghoraba was in charge of suppressing labor protests in Mahalla al-Kobra in 2008 and other protests prior to the 25 January revolution.
He was also Alexandria’s police chief when Khaled Saeed, Egypt’s famous victim of torture, was killed. During the 18-day revolt, he oversaw the dispersal of protests in the area in which Al-Qaed Ibrahim Mosque is situated, the epicenter of the mass demonstrations in Alexandria.
Another case involving Ghoraba was that of the arrest of Sabry Nakhnoukh, who was charged with thuggery and possession of firearms but accused the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed al-Beltagy of colluding with police to fabricate charges against him.
The formation of two new departments — the Human Rights Department, headed by Hussein Fikry, and the Social Networking Department, headed by Abu Bakr Abdel Karim — did little to quell criticism of the moves.
Bahey el-din Hassan, director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, sees the Human Rights Department as an artificial attempt to improve the ministry’s image, rather than a genuine step toward reform.
Ten new security directors and two aides were appointed to replace high-ranking officers who have retired. The ministry’s rigid hierarchal structure means that in-house promotions see no new names moving up in rank, and, unless there’s a major overhaul, reshuffles of this kind will see more of the same familiar faces.
Commenting on the shuffle, the April 6 Youth Movement said it did nothing to cleanse the police force.
Since its retreat from the streets during the 18-day revolt, the police have been accused of either being unwilling, or unable, to return in full force. The prevalence of arms among citizens, initially as a protective tool during the security vacuum, has not subsided, despite ministry attempts to offer citizens a grace period to return unlicensed weapons, as well as an increasing number of checkpoints on the streets inspecting random cars.
Some areas suffer more than others. Last week, the police withdrew from the city of Arish following the killing of three police officers by terrorist groups, leading the army to appear on the streets of North Sinai.
Meanwhile, security forces in North Sinai complain that assailants have more sophisticated weapons, and accuse the president of not taking a firm stance against extremists.
The Interior Ministry submitted to the president five draft laws, including one to protect society from criminals, another regulating demonstrations and a third criminalizing disrupting or damaging places of work. All are considered by human rights organizations to be indicators of security forces maintaining their longstanding policies.
“The police want to discipline people, not redeem themselves,” says Hassan.
Meanwhile, Mashaly says the task of internal development is “a difficult one” that requires “thinking outside the box.
“None of the existing security generals know how to deal with the challenges facing the country, be it terrorism or the number and types of smuggled weapons,” he says.
A prevailing grievance
One of the main grievances of protesters who took to the streets during the 25 January revolution was the prevalence of police brutality and torture within Egypt’s security apparatuses.
Immediately after former President Hosni Mubarak’s ouster, rights groups scrambled to present detailed and expansive plans for reforming the police force and the overall security system. However, their plans were shelved, and security sector reform continues to be a main demand of revolutionary groups.
The Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party enjoyed a parliamentary majority but did little to address this concern. Morsy rose from the ranks of the Brotherhood, a group banned under the Mubarak regime and often subjected to its violent crackdowns on the opposition. However, expectations that the group’s history would translate into security sector reform have proven to be naive.
Most police officers put on trial for the killing of protesters during the revolt were acquitted, and rights groups have repeatedly complained that the police continues to utilize torture methods. Numerous human rights violations have been reported.
Hassan says, “The situation since the fall of Mubarak on 11 February 2011 has not changed. This is what brought us to where we are today, and to what is happening in Sinai.”
Sinai has seen a surge in repeated attacks against security personnel and institutions, and the state has ramped up security measures in the area but the effect has been negligible.
Former presidential candidate Abul Ezz al-Hariry says this is because the mentality of the police has not changed.
“They are back to the policies of repression that prevailed before the revolution,” he says. “It won’t work.”
FJP member Hamdy Hassan says it’s not wise to clash with the police at this point in time, given the security challenges facing the country, suggesting that attempts at security sector reform will be met with resistance.
“When the president decided to dismiss the public prosecutor, which was a revolutionary demand, people stood against him,” Hassan says. “Promoting officials without giving them real power is one way of getting rid of them.”
A maneuver to remove the head of the Public Prosecution, Abdel Meguid Mahmoud, by transferring him to the diplomatic mission of the Vatican was met with opposition by the judiciary, which claimed the president was interfering in what should be an independent branch of government.
After a curious back-and-forth exchange, Mahmoud remained in his post, and the attempt proved an embarrassment for Morsy.
Mohamed Zarea of the National Council for Human Rights’ complaints department said the nature of the complaints he receives about police violations are no different than before the revolution.
“We need to change policies, not individuals,” he says.
Morsy’s critics accuse him of attempting to overtake state institutions by placing Brotherhood members in vital posts, amid fears of replicating Mubarak’s ruling party omnipotence. These arguments are supported by the appointment of new editors-in-chief of state-owned newspapers, and governors and members of the National Council for Human Rights, with Brotherhood members prominent.
However, even if true, the same strategy may be tougher to employ at the fortified Interior Ministry.
“I do not think the FJP will control the Interior Ministry,” says Mashaly. “The police will not be a tool in the hands of the ruling party again.”
This article was translated by Ibrahim Hab al-Roman and appears in this week's Egypt Independent print edition.