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Egypt’s transition tested by security breakdown

Egypt’s transition tested by security breakdown

As Egypt builds its democracy identity amid lack of security that may hurt the country’s fragile economy and is prompting even citizens to buy their own firearms.

May 19, 2011 1:40 by

Seeking to restore confidence, the cabinet issued an order sanctioning the use of force by police to help them carry out “their national duty” to keep security and protect people.

Police officers admit the challenge they have faced.

“There was a general fear among the police about using force but now the government has said it will implement laws and empower police to respond to crimes, they will be able to get back to work and their presence will be felt,” said one security officer, who asked not to be identified.


But some think it will take more to repair the police’s battered credibility. There can be no return to the old tactics from Mubarak’s era, when poorly paid police routinely took bribes, used torture to get confessions and brutally crushed opposition, rights groups say.

“The decades-old lack of confidence between police and people, which has not been treated for years, will need political solutions and cannot be muted simply by expanding the force or upgrading its equipment,” the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies wrote in a letter to the cabinet.

Analysts say the longer security remains weak, the harder it will be to tighten later. And not everyone is confident about how swiftly the authorities can deliver, fuelling a roaring legal and illegal trade in guns.

“During the revolution, when police depots were broken into, a lot of those pieces made it onto the black market because people were looking to make profits at uncertain times,” said one 50-year-old businessman who chose to stay anonymous.

He was offered a rifle that would have usually cost 15,000 Egyptian pounds ($2,500) for just 2,000 pounds, no questions asked.

The Interior Ministry has launched a “Security for All” programme to be broadcast on state television, where people can air their concerns about security.

“Security has gotten better but we are not going to be safe for a long time. I don’t think we will ever be as secure as we used to be,” said engineer Ahmed Sefy al-Din.

His family dug out an old rifle that had been gathering dust in a store room, cleaned it and bought fresh rounds when they heard prisoners were on the run. The media and other sources reported at least four jailbreaks in May.

“With all these weapons on the streets, its very hard to collect them,” said Sefy al-Din.

Gun ownership is tightly regulated by the Ministry of Interior. But many are skirting the official licensing process.

“This is the time of the gun, everyone knows it. If you really wanted a weapon, you couldn’t find a better time to get one,” said Mohamed Faisal, 20, who has a blank pistol for protection and helped a friend find an illegal weapon.

“They were cheap and they were everywhere. Now it’s a bit harder because police are back on the streets and it is tougher to buy and sell, but the business is still roaring,” he said. (By Dina Zayed and Isabel Coles; Additional reporting by Yasmine Saleh; Editing by Edmund Blair)

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