Problems on hold
When Egyptians applaud the honourable dedication of their security apparatus in guarding the nation’s internal front against the perils that threaten it; when they express their full appreciation of the security alertness which foils crime before it takes place and aborts terror attacks; when they voice their gratitude for the huge sacrifice of life security men offer while on duty confronting evil doing in all forms; when they do all that they offer a shield of heroism, dignity, and pride to every individual and rank in the security apparatus.
The mellow bond that today ties Egyptians to their security apparatus has its roots not only in the aspects I mentioned above, but also in the development of mutual courtesy, dignity, and respect of law. No longer are the police disrespectful in dealing with the public, or tyrannical in the course of exercising their role in battling crime; neither do they practice runaway high-handedness in confronting lawlessness. It is a comfort that Egyptians have come to see that the police are committed to upholding the law, and no longer resort to former tyrannical practices or treat persons as guilty until proved otherwise.
Any violations to the benign image of security men or policemen rightfully begs questions, warrants protest, and raises fears of going back to the days of police terror. It is the duty of security chiefs to investigate the violations and take all necessary measures to assure the public such infringements on the law would not go unchecked nor would they be allowed to recur.
During the last few weeks, there have been repeated complaints of incidents of police violations that brought on widespread discontent. Policemen in uniform or plain clothes have stopped members of the public at specific points, famously at entrances and exits of underground metro stations in Cairo, and asked to check their IDs. So far, there was nothing wrong; it is no secret that the security situation in Egypt today calls for such checks, and alertness on the part of the police, which is to be commended. But what followed, however, was neither warranted nor commendable: the police would ask the person under check to hand over his or her mobile phone; they would browse through it and look at data, information, or images without permission. Persons who underwent such experiences were understandably livid; the image that quickly came to mind was that of the tyrannical policeman who threw the law to the wind, smug in his assurance of being beyond accountability. A very disturbing thought.
The law says that any search of personal belongings or property, apart from identity documents, can only be conducted upon a warrant issued by the public prosecution or the legal investigation authorities. Such warrants are never general in nature; they do not apply collectively but individually, to serve specific legal purposes. Even when an ID check places someone in suspect situation, he or she or their belongings may not be searched on the spot; they are taken to the police station until a legal search warrant is issued.
Once stories circulated of the unwarranted search through individuals’ mobile phones, the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) hastened to issue a statement citing that behaviour as a violation of the law and Constitution. At the same time, the Ministry of Interior posted the following on its official page: “Security Statement: A security source said that the information included in the statement by the National Council of Human Rights was based on unreliable sources that attempt to sow confusion and tension on the Egyptian street.” It went on to claim that all the cases searched or caught had been according to full legal proceedings, and requested that information be obtained from the proper authorities.
I have a few comments on the Ministry of Interior’s statement.
First: my information about the mobile phone search incidents was first hand; I got to know about them from persons who were subjected to such searches or from eyewitnesses. Neither my sources nor those of the NCHR were unreliable.
Second: The “confusion and tension on the Egyptian street” was caused by the police’s unwarranted search of individuals’ mobile phones. The Ministry of Interior ought to have admitted it, apologised for it, taken to account those who initiated it, and ensured it would never recur, in order to regain the relation of mutual respect and reassurance between the people and the police.
Third: The full legal proceedings cited in the Ministry of Interior’s statement were not applied to the mobile phone search incidents conducted in public spots. These incidents have raised fears of renewed police tyranny.
20 October 2019