CAIRO: People who accuse the police of torture and violating human rights without having experienced such abuse first hand are making these allegations up, Interior Minister Habib El-Adly said in an interview with state television Sunday.
“I regard people who speak badly of the police as individuals who hate themselves and their country, El-Adly told presenter Mufid Fawzy.
“As long as you’re not doing anything wrong, the police will help you, El-Adly continued.
El-Adly was speaking during a special edition of Fawzy’s “Talk of the Town, broadcast on the occasion of National Police Day which, for the first time, is a public holiday.
The national holiday has caused a few raised eyebrows in the press and online, where the original point of the occasion – to commemorate policemen who died in Ismailia resisting British occupation – has taken second place to questions about the appropriateness of celebrating a body which consistently faces allegations of violations such as torture and illegal detention.
A cartoon by Bahgat Othman, originally published in the late 1980s and that perfectly sums up the view of some Egyptians of the police, has been circulating online. It shows two men sitting in a café, the first one asking the other, “How did you celebrate national police day?
“I woke up at dawn, searched my flat and wrecked it.then I gave myself a slap.and slept, the other man replies.
Unsurprisingly, the Interior Minister sees things differently.
Fawzy posed a range of questions to El-Adly on sectarian issues, police violations, Egyptian foreign policy and aspects of the Interior Minister’s private life.
El-Adly rejected the idea that Egypt is a police state.
“This description is wrong. The police carries out the duties described under the law and the constitution, and doesn’t go beyond this remit, El-Adly says.
El-Adly conceded that violations are committed by some members of the police, but said that “there’s no state body which doesn’t have a bad apple in it. Violations happen in all state institutions.
El-Adly added that it is the Interior Ministry itself that casts light on such violations.
Egyptian and international rights groups allege that torture is a “systematic practice in Egypt. They suggest that – given the volume of abuse allegations – the low number of police officers found guilty of transgressions indicates that the authorities are not doing enough to tackle the problem.
El-Adly rejected suggestions that Egypt’s extensive network of security bodies “controls administrative decision-making. The Interior Minister said that administrative bodies “consult security bodies for a non-binding opinion.
Egypt does not have a sectarian problem, El-Adly told Fawzy.
“We can’t deny that there exists extremism, and that there are extremists amongst both Christians and Muslims. But if you ask me whether there is a sectarian crisis? I’ll tell you no, there isn’t. These are ordinary crimes, committed not because of a sectarian crisis but for other reasons, El-Adly commented.
El-Adly illustrated his perspective through reference to the recent shootings in Nagaa Hammadi, Qena, when six Copts and a Muslim policeman were killed outside a Church on Coptic Christmas night.
“Shall we call a crime committed by a known criminal with a criminal record, with a criminal history.a sectarian crime? El-Adly asked, suggesting that the “arbitrary manner in which the shootings were carried out made it impossible to designate them as such.
“We are one people. There are individuals who want to undo this common fabric both here and abroad, El-Adly said. The interior minister pointed to the “large numbers of Muslims who went to see alleged sightings of the Virgin Mary in Cairo last year, and the fact that Christians and Muslims all support the same team in sports events, as evidence that a sectarian crisis does not exist.
El-Adly denied reports that security bodies had information about the Nagaa Hammadi attacks in advance of their happening. He added however that while “there always exists a risk of something happening it is impossible for him to “put a police officer on every corner.
Fawzy then asked why, if the perpetrator of the shootings was known to the police, he was not placed in administrative detention.
“I don’t possess the power to detain someone right away like that, El-Adly said, pointing out that the Emergency Law (which gives police powers of administrative detention) is only applicable to certain crimes – “terrorism and drug offences – and is sometimes applied to “activity which causes dreadful harm.
“It can’t though be applied to a small-time criminal like this, El-Adly said with reference to the man arrested on charges of being responsible for the Nagaa Hammadi shootings.
Fawzy then turned to the practice of renewed detentions, asking why security bodies renew the administrative detention of individuals who have been issued release orders by court.
El-Adly said that detention orders are only issued against individuals engaged in “dangerous activity and that all detention orders are sent to him for approval. He added that while detainees have the right to appeal their detention and obtain release orders, “There are some cases in which we find that his detention must be renewed because we know that the individual poses a threat.
Egyptian rights groups estimate that some 5,000-10,000 people are being held in administrative detention, illegally.
Turning to Cairo’s traffic overcrowding problem El-Adly said that rush hour periods “are inevitable. He nonetheless rebuked Cairene drivers’ “behavior as a “major component of the problem, saying that, “minor accidents can close down an entire area or even paralyze the whole city.
Egypt is going through “the most important stage in its history: political, economic and social reform, El-Adly said, and “there has to be a wide platform for freedom of expression and opinion, and freedom to engage in political activity.
He suggested that opinions should however be constructive, and characterized by “a sense of patriotism. He was dismissive of political opponents of the regime “who think that they’re causing a stir.
“The political leadership is much bigger than that, El-Adly said.
El-Adly was next asked about the controversial iron wall Egypt is building on its border with Gaza.
“Who said that it’s a wall? It’s underground. It’s a metal shield to block the tunnels. Cars can now pass through these tunnels. I don’t think that our Palestinian brothers have the technology to build these tunnels – it comes from abroad for sure, El-Adly said, adding that security bodies have seized material coming through the tunnels “which was going to be used in attacks in Egypt and abroad.
In order to explain why Egypt is building the wall to “the uneducated citizen, or the citizen who is not familiar with politics El-Adly drew an analogy.
“Should I leave the door of my house open all night when the kids and the wife are inside? Where’s my sense of patriotism, my sense of loyalty to my house?