Egypt’s secret police revived and back on the streets

With Egypt already under a nationwide state of emergency in the aftermath of two deadly attacks that targeted churches in Tanta and Alexandria, Interior Minister Magdy Abdel Ghafar issued instructions for secret police to be deployed in Egypt's streets and public squares to monitor and curtail any instances of criminal intent.

According to state-run newspaper Al-Ahram, Ghafar issued these instructions during a meeting at the beginning of the week which was attended by high-ranking police officials.

The meeting discussed new plans by the Interior Ministry to secure streets and public squares by intensifying Egypt's security presence, in addition to spreading secret police operators throughout streets. This move has raised questions about the nature of their work and how they will carry out their instructions.

Consequently, a number of political figures and social media users have expressed their fears about how secret police operators will monitor suspects, as past instances of similar security protocol has often resulted in human rights violations in the name of national security.

Former assistant to the Interior Minister, Mohamed Nour al-Din, told Egypt Independent on Monday: "The secret police is not a new invention by any means; they have been present since police forces were first stationed in Egypt. These operators contributed to effectively anticipating terrorist attacks, vandalism, assault and other cases of criminal intent by monitoring suspects and providing their leaders with the information gathered."

On the nature of their work, Nour al-Din said the secret police do not have the authority to directly arrest citizens; the operators must first carefully monitor anyone suspicious to build up a substantial case against them which they may then forward to their superiors to take further measures.

Under the current state of emergency, police officers have the authority to question anyone they deem suspicious and search their person and belongings, he said, asserting that these measures will not negatively affect Egyptians' personal freedoms.

"Rather, these measures effectively contribute to protecting Egypt's national security," Nour al-Din said.

According to Al-Ahram, the Interior Ministry announced that these measures are for the sake of protecting Egypt's main cities due to the unprecedented challenges that face the nation. The country's national security will be enhanced through the stationing of ground armed forces in the streets and public squares to help curb any reported attacks.

The Interior Ministry was unavailable for comment to clarify the nature of the secret police's operations.

Concerning people's heightened fear of random arrests, Professor of Constitutional Law Fathi Fekari recently said on privately-run TV channel MBC Masr that any arrests based solely on suspicion are constitutionally illegal without a warrant.

The Higher Constitutional Court had issued a verdict stipulating that no security personnel has the authority to arrest anyone due to their suspicions without a proper case, Fekari added.

However, contrary to these stipulated regulations, member of the National Council of Human Rights Nasser Amin told Egypt Independent it is likely that police violations against citizens will be on the rise with the advent of increased security presence around the country.

"Police forces, whether ground personnel or secret police operators, do not have the authority to arrest or search anyone based on suspicion — even under a state of emergency. According to the law, all they can do is arrest someone in flagrante delicto [caught red-handed]," Amin stressed.

He explained that Egyptian law and the Constitution clarify that it is illogical to arrest or search someone based solely on suspicion; security personnel are only authorized to arrest a criminal who has been caught in the act of committing an offense.

With the application of Emergency Law nationwide in the wake of the tragic church attacks which were claimed by the Islamic State, several political figures and rights activists echoed the same fears about the possibility of a resurgence in violations against citizens, such as extrajudicial killings; random arrests; and illegal searches without seeking proper authorization from the prosecution.   

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