MIDDLE EAST

Egypt's interior minister is replaced; no easing of crackdown expected

Egypt sacks interior minister accused of brutality, but no easing of crackdown is signaled

Egypt’s interior minister, who presided over a police force and other security agencies that have often been accused of brutality and rights violations, lost his job in a Cabinet shuffle on Thursday.

But President Abdel Fattah Sisi’s removal of Mohammed Ibrahim did not appear to signal any easing of a 20-month-old crackdown on political opponents. Ibrahim was replaced by police Gen. Magdy Abdel Ghafar, who is a leading figure in the security apparatus.

Ibrahim’s ouster followed a string of small bomb attacks in recent weeks, which have caused some fatalities and caused property damage to commercial targets, including mobile-phone stores. While small in scale, the attacks are seen as potentially damaging to Egypt’s appeal before a major investment conference this month.

Ibrahim also came under criticism for an episode last month in which 20 soccer fans died in a stampede after police used tear gas to keep them from entering a stadium.

During Ibrahim’s tenure, the security agencies and the police carried out a wide-ranging crackdown on opponents of the government – most of them Islamist supporters of deposed President Mohamed Morsi, but also including some well-known secular activists who helped spearhead Egypt’s 2011 uprising against dictator Hosni Mubarak.

Tens of thousands have been arrested, and human rights groups periodically accuse the police and security agencies of abusing detainees. Two police officers have been accused in the alleged torture death of a man at a Cairo police station last month.

Police also frequently employ deadly force against protesters. There was an outcry in January after a young poet named Shaimaa Sabbagh was shot dead as she and others were on their way to lay flowers in Tahrir Square. Witnesses said police had opened fire on the group.

Ibrahim, who survived an assassination attempt by suspected Islamic militants in the fall of 2013, was given a largely ceremonial post in the prime minister’s office.

The Cabinet reshuffle, which involved the replacement of other ministers including those for culture, tourism and education, was the first since Sisi took office in June. As defense minister, Sisi had presided over Morsi’s removal in a popularly supported coup nearly a year earlier. He was elected president by an overwhelming margin.

Times staff writer Laura King in Cairo contributed to this report.

Follow @LauraKingLAT on Twitter for news from the Middle East

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