EGYPT: Interior minister blames security gap on officers’ fear of facing prosecution

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Interior Minister Mansour Essawi said the security vacuum Egypt has witnessed since the Jan. 25 revolution is due to apprehensions by police officers that they will be unjustly accused of misconduct.

‘There has been a great shock among policemen after many officers and street cops were taken to court for [no other reason than] their defense of police stations and public facilities they were assigned to protect during the revolution,’ Essawi was quoted as saying by state news agency MENA on Tuesday.

Scores of police officers, along with former Interior Minister Habib Adli, ousted President Hosni Mubarak and his two sons, are awaiting trials for their alleged roles in shootings directed at protesters during the 18-day uprising that ended with Mubarak stepping down on Feb.11.

A government-sponsored fact-finding committee issued a report on Apr. 19 saying that 846 civilians were killed and 6,400 were injured during demonstrations. The report, which held Mubarak and his government at least indirectly responsible for the deaths of protesters, added that 26 police officers also died during the unrest.


However, Essawi said he believes that Egyptians should differentiate between officers who were defending citizens and public facilities and other authorities accused of attacking demonstrators. ‘Large numbers of officers became afraid of confronting thugs because of such mix-ups,’ Essawi said.

Distrust of police was widespread during the Mubarak regime, when Egyptians frequently faced torture, false arrests and demands for bribes. The atmosphere has not improved much since the revolution. Abuses continue, and many officers have abandoned their duties, which has led to a troubling rise in crime. Essawi said that any officer who fails to report for duty will be disciplined.

On Monday, several hundred activists protested outside the Interior Ministry’s headquarters in memory of Khaled Saied, who was allegedly beaten to death by police officers in Alexandria last year. Demonstrators also criticized the ministry for not stemming human rights violations since the revolution. Allegations of two torture deaths in Cairo police stations have surfaced in recent weeks. An autopsy report by Egypt’s coroner on Monday found that Ramzi Salah el Din suffered internal bleeding and broken bones while in police custody on May 24. No officer has been charged in the case.

‘The ministry will take all legal and administrative actions in case any violations were proven by the prosecution against citizens out of the ministry’s respect for the rule of the law,’ according to a statement by the Ministry of Interior.

Since taking over as Interior Minister on March 5, Essawi has overhauled the ministry. The infamous State Security Investigations Service was dissolved, and 450 of its officials involved in violation cases were suspended.

-- Amro Hassan in Cairo