Each night as the sound of gunfire echoes through the warren of alleys framed by crumbling apartment buildings in Cairo’s Maasara district, Essam Mahmoud says a prayer and pulls his two young children into bed with him and his wife.
Two years after the mass uprising that pushed Hosni Mubarak from power, the security apparatus that once persecuted and imprisoned Mohamed Mursi has come back to haunt him. The embattled Islamist president is already under fire from opponents who say he is selling out the country to bolster his Muslim Brotherhood backers. He now faces more criticism after a wave of violence last week left more than 50 dead in clashes where police were accused of using excessive and lethal force.
Under Mubarak, the “police were dogs, but they kept order,” said Mahmoud, who says he worries about his children being hit by a stray bullet in their neighborhood. What’s needed now is decisive action to restore order “but with the kind of respect Mursi promised us,” he said.
The beating of a nude man near Mursi’s palace during a Feb. 1 protest has become the latest incident highlighting the challenge the president faces in reining in a population emboldened by last year’s uprising and curbing a security apparatus many of whom were appointed by the previous regime.
“It’s terrible that more than two years after my brother was brutally tortured to death by police, and after a revolution against tyranny and police brutality, we’re seeing the same violations happening over and over again,” Zahra Said, the sister of Khaled Said, a young man whose death at the hands of police helped trigger the mass uprising against Mubarak, said in a phone interview. “Nothing has changed.”
“The regime hasn’t fallen and no evidence of justice is in sight,” she said. Mursi “has done nothing about his pledges to reform the police,” she said.
Days after the start of the uprising against Mubarak, the police withdrew from the streets, creating a security vacuum Egyptians say has allowed a spike in crimes and a proliferation of weapons. When they have reappeared, it is often with the deployment of riot police who, activists contend, are reverting to the tactics employed under Mubarak. About 1,000 of those forces refused to leave their barracks last week, complaining they needed better weapons, state media reported, a claim later denied by the Interior Ministry.
Adding to the worries are emergency measures Mursi introduced to quell unrest in three Suez Canal provinces. Those powers include giving the military the right to arrest civilians. The government is currently working on a draft law that would limit protests and give the police authority to use force to break up demonstrations, the state-run Ahram Online reported today.
Mursi, after meeting with top police officials today, SAID that those who sow “destruction” will be punished under the law, while stressing the right to peaceful protest and freedom of expression, Ahram Online reported.
Hamada Saber’s beating at the hands of police, shown on a video aired on the Arabic al-Hayat satellite channel, came amid violence last week in which opposition parties and activists say police opened fire on protesters in Port Said.
In a twist Saber’s family described as the result of police coercion, he appeared on state television and other Arabic channels saying the security forces were trying to save him from protesters.
Subsequently, Saber told prosecutors that it was security forces outside the presidential palace that had beat him up and stripped him of his clothes, retracting his earlier statements, the state-run Middle East News Agency reported yesterday. He said he made his earlier comments “to contain the case,” and not because he was pressured by police, MENA reported.
The presidency condemned the attack in a statement, while also blaming opposition groups for calling for protests by the palace a day after they and the Brotherhood had signed a deal renouncing violence.
Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim said the results of the investigation would be reviewed by him personally. The ministry described the incident as an “individual” act that did not reflect on the ethos of the force. Egypt, Ibrahim said, was at risk of becoming a nation of militias if the police force collapsed.
The comments built on warnings by Mursi’s defense minister last week about the “collapse of the state” if the current violence and political fighting continue.
Already, the nation has seen the rise of fringe groups. On one side is the so-called Black Bloc -- masked activists set against the Brotherhood -- while on the other are self-professed Muslim militias warning of what they say are attempts by the country’s Coptic Christian minority to declare a separate state.
Rights groups argue that Mursi, elected on a platform of “social justice,” has drawn on the rise in lawlessness to curtail rights even as he pledges to uphold them. In his first 100 days, 34 people were killed and 88 tortured by authorities, the Nadeem Centre for Rehabilitation of Torture Victims said in a November report.
An activist with the Popular Current party died from injuries sustained in an assault, the Health Ministry said in a statement carried on the state-run Middle East News Agency today. He had been found in a hospital in serious condition after disappearing from near Tahrir Square on Jan. 28 and had been tortured for three days, the party said on its Facebook page. A funeral march through Tahrir for two activists killed was held today.
The presidency is seeking an investigation into the death of Mohamed el-Gendy, MENA reported today. Speaking at a televised press conference, Prime Minister Hisham Qandil said there would be “no return to repression” and said his administration didn’t condone the killing of its people.
“This is not the preference of the government or the head of government or the president of the republic,” he said. “This is the right of the Egyptian people whose sons sacrificed their lives and souls” in the uprising against Mubarak.