Egypt restores feared secret police units

Military-backed government seems to have no intent of reforming practices that characterised both Mubarak and Morsi eras

Qur'ans

Qur’ans belonging to supporters of Egypt’s ousted President Mohamed Morsi are seen in a tent at Nasr City. Photograph: Manu Brabo/AP

Egypt‘s interim government was accused of attempting to return the country to the Mubarak era on Monday, after the country’s interior ministry announced the resurrection of several controversial police units that were nominally shut down following the country’s 2011 uprising and the interim prime minister was given the power to place the country in a state of emergency.

Egypt’s state security investigations service, Mabahith Amn ad-Dawla, a wing of the police force under President Mubarak, and a symbol of police oppression, was supposedly closed in March 2011 – along with several units within it that investigated Islamist groups and opposition activists. The new national security service (NSS) was established in its place.

But following Saturday’s massacre of at least 83 Islamists, interior minister Mohamed Ibrahim announced the reinstatement of the units, and referred to the NSS by its old name. He added that experienced police officers sidelined in the aftermath of the 2011 revolution would be brought back into the fold.

Police brutality also went unchecked under Morsi, who regularly failed to condemn police abuses committed during his presidency. But Ibrahim’s move suggests he is using the ousting of Morsi – and a corresponding upsurge in support for Egypt’s police – as a smokescreen for the re-introduction of pre-2011 practices.

Ibrahim’s announcement came hours before Egypt’s interim prime minister was given the power to place the country in a state of emergency – a hallmark of Egypt under Mubarak.

“It’s a return to the Mubarak era,” said Aida Seif el-Dawla, a prominent Egyptian human rights activist, and the executive director of a group that frequently supports victims of police brutality, the Nadeem centre for rehabilitation of victims of violence and torture.

“These units committed the most atrocious human rights violations,” said el-Dawla. “Incommunicado detentions, killings outside the law. Those were the [units] that managed the killing of Islamists during the 1990s. It’s an ugly authority that has never been brought to justice.”

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