By Ahmed Aboul Enein and Nasser El-Azzazy
Minister of Interior Ahmed Gamal El-Din dismissed Police chief Major General Ahmed Bakr on Sunday following Saturday’s killing of three policemen in Sinai and the police withdrawal that followed. Bakr’s deputy, Major General Sameeh Beshady, has replaced him.
Gamal El-Din made his way to Sinai on Sunday after Saturday’s attack. The minister was scheduled to hold a popular conference with the citizens of North Sinai to discuss their grievances. He met only with the governor and some tribal elders, however, which enraged protesters.
Protesters surrounded the governorate building again, thus blocking the Arish-Rafah International Road. They called for the minister’s dismissal alongside all top security officials. The family of Mohamed Saber Al-Rayshat, a man who was killed at the hands of a police patrol last week, joined them.
They demanded an official apology from the Ministry of Interior. The family of tribal elder Sheikh Abdel Karim Badawi who was kidnapped on Saturday also joined the protest demanding the police rescue him.
Policemen retreated en masse from police stations on Saturday, protesting the killing of three of their comrades in Al-Arish by unidentified gunmen at noon on Saturday. A fourth policeman was injured.
The protesting policemen surrounded the governorate building demanding retribution for their colleagues and the removal of Bakr and all security leaders in the governorate.
They also blocked the Arish-Rafah International Road and demanded the government intervene quickly to protect them from being targeted, provide them with better weapons and equipment, and remove all corrupt security officials.
Several political parties and revolutionary groups organised a protest to support the policemen, also calling for the removal of the police chief and security leaders due to the poor security situation in North Sinai.
The Minister of Defence and Commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces, General Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi,also arrived in North Sinai on Sunday morning and met Governor Sayed Harhour, military spokesperson Colonel Ahmed Aly announced in a statement.
The military took over Al-Arish police stations, placing four armoured personnel carriers at each, following the police force’s withdrawal from the city. Al-Arish citizens, who formed popular committees for security, helped the military take over.
Military police also took over the governorate building after several policemen and revolutionary groups surrounded it late Saturday night. They demanded the dismissal of the governor and his deputy and for the next governor to be elected.
There were calls by some to take over the governorate building and form a 25-member council of revolutionary Sinai citizens. The calls were misinterpreted and reported by some media outlets as events that had already taken place, causing panic.
The protesting groups released a statement calling for the state to officially admit the failure of Operation Eagle, the military operation in Sinai following the August attack by unidentified militants on military personnel stationed at the Egyptian-Israeli border in Rafah.
They also demanded Egypt’s northern borders remain as they are, the removal of the governor of Sinai and his deputy, an intensified military presence in Sinai, the dismissal of the interior minister, and punishing all security leaders from the general intelligence, military intelligence and the police, who the statement blamed for the current security situation.
Presidential spokesperson Yasser Ali said the presidency received no official request to dismiss the North Sinai governor and that in any case Harhour has only been in office for a few months and would not be dismissed.
He added that President Mohamed Morsy had met with Harhour Saturday night and discussed the situation extensively.
The Sinai problem, Ali said, was one of development. He said the presidency was working on agricultural and industrial projects in order to create job opportunities for Sinai youth.
Protesters declared a sit-in on Sunday and said they would escalate their actions in case their demands were not met.
The traffic police station was closed Sunday morning, with a sign on the door declaring it “closed until purification is complete”, while the emergency police station was also closed.