Post-Mubarak Egypt Wants Police Force Reined In
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Now to Egypt, where human rights groups are pressing for sweeping reforms that country's police force. During the heady days of the revolution, demonstrators fought pitched battles with Egyptian police, a force trained to crush all opposition with violence. As NPR's Leila Fadel reports from Cairo, those pushing for reform say they've seen no indication that change is near.
LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: The trouble in the slum of Ramlet el Boulaq began after administrators at a nearby mall and hotel refused to pay the salaries of guards hired from the area. The guards protested and a confrontation ensued. Video of the clashes and raids were posted on YouTube.
(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO)
FADEL: One of the local guards was killed. Police say they killed him in self-defense, but human rights groups and witnesses say the man was unarmed when he was shot dead.
KARIMA SULEIMAN: (Foreign language spoken)
FADEL: Local resident Karima Suleiman says her husband tried to help the victim, but then he too was shot and wounded as was her son. The youngest boy, only 14, was so angry he went and threw rocks at security forces. He was then detained and beaten, his front teeth knocked out of his mouth.
After the shootings, angry residents set cars on fire. The police responded by bombarding the neighborhood with tear gas and raiding homes. The raids in this slum of mud-brick shacks and sewage-soaked roads haven't stopped. More than 40 men have been detained, many others have fled the neighborhood including Karima's sons and husband.
SULEIMAN: (Through Translator) We talked to a police officer and he said that he has orders to shoot anyone. See how unjust?
FADEL: Karima shows us her husband's bloody clothes and an x-ray of her son's broken leg.
SULEIMAN: (Through Translator) We want to be treated like human beings, not dogs.
FADEL: She makes it clear she expected better things from the man she voted for, Egypt's President Mohammed Morsi.
SULEIMAN: (Through Translator) Why did we elect a new president? We did it so that he stands by us, not so he kills us.
FADEL: Karim Medhat Emara of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights is a criminal justice researcher. He says the new minister of Interior who oversees the police force is a career officer who seems keen on using heavy-handed tactics to combat the rising crime rate. Emara says the Egypt is witnessing the return of torture, arbitrary arrests and excessive use of force by police.
KARIM MEDHAT EMARA: One of the key issues we have with the police, though, is that the use of force and firearms is completely unregulated and there's a lot of room for police officers to use force and firearms randomly.
FADEL: So far, Emara has documented eight cases of unlawful deaths at the hands of police and two torture deaths of men in detention in the past seven months. But he believes he's only scratched the surface. He says, in part, the police are behaving even more brutally because of the revolution. Egyptians seemed used to be easily cowed, but now, he says, they are unafraid to assert their political will through protest.
The new minister of justice has proposed reinstituting the emergency law. Under former President Hosni Mubarak, that law was used to oppress opposition and arbitrarily arrest people, including the new president and members of his once banned organization, the Muslim Brotherhood. The law expired earlier this year.
EMARA: When we hear that, I am afraid that this means that the Muslim Brotherhood going to run Egypt with the same tools and the same methodologies of Mubarak.
FADEL: Bahey el-din Hassan, head of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights says the president and the Muslim Brotherhood are more concerned with controlling Egypt's institutions, rather than reforming them.
BAHIADINE HASSAN: This is very alarming indication of what is in fact in the government kitchen now.
FADEL: Yasser Ali, the president's spokesman acknowledges the need for serious security reform, but in a recent briefing he said the president has inherited a corrupt bureaucratic system that can't be changed overnight.
YASSER ALI: (Through Translator) The issue of human rights in Egypt is one of which we have all suffered. I myself have been detained nearly 12 times. I fully consider human rights. Also, the president was detained several times.
FADEL: Back in Ramlet el Boulaq, the seats are empty and police raids continue. Karima Sulieman asks: If things don't change now, then when? Leila Fadel, NPR News, Cairo.