Egypt PM appoints new key ministers


Foreign affairs, interior and justice portfolios change hands amid violence outside state security buildings in Cairo
Activists say they were attempting to retrieve papers documenting rights abuses by state security services [Reuters]

Egypt’s prime minister has appointed new ministers for the foreign-affairs and interior portfolios in a further sign that ousted president Hosni Mubarak’s old guard are being removed from the cabinet.
Essam Sharaf named Nabil Elaraby, a former judge with the Hague-based International Court of Justice, and Mansour el-Essawy for the crucial positions on Sunday, according to a post on the Facebook page of the prime minister’s office.
Elaraby’s appointment came hours after El-Essawy’s, but Sharaf’s cabinet list has yet to be confirmed.
Elaraby would replace Ahmed Aboul-Gheit, who has held the post since 2004.
El-Essawy replaces Mohmoud Wagdi, who was appointed by Mubarak in the wake of the violent crackdown on anti-government protesters by security forces on January 28. El-Essawy is a former head of security for Giza, which is in greater Cairo, and is a former governor of Minya in Upper Egypt.

Sharaf also named Mohammed al-Guindy, a former attorney general, as minister of justice to replace Mamdouh Marie, who has been widely accused of corruption.

Al Jazeera’s Ayman Mohyeldin, reporting from Cairo, said: “The message that’s being delivered to the international community with someone that’s as seasoned a diplomat as Nabil Elaraby is that it’s a departure from the past [of Mubarak].”

Just hours after the new appointments, Egyptian troops fired into the air during a protest outside the interior ministry offices in Cairo by activists demanding reform of the security forces, witnesses said.

The activists said they were confronted by men in plain clothes armed with knives during the protest. Two activists speaking to the Reuters news agency by telephone said they were trapped by men they called “thugs”.

Purge demanded

Pro-democracy activists had demanded a purge of cabinet in which the key portfolios of defence, justice, interior
and foreign affairs were being run by appointees of Mubarak, who was swept from power on February 11, after 18 days of mass protests.

Commenting on Sunday’s cabinet reshuffle, Abdullah al-Ashal, a professor of international law at the American University in Cairo, told Al Jazeera: “Elaraby is a career diplomat; he is very respected … and very nationalistic. I think during this period he is the best choice in the government.”

But al-Ashal said the “revolution” in Egypt was continuing “because we didn’t get everything that we have been calling for”.

“We have a list of demands. Of course we have achieved something, but the most [important thing] we didn’t achieve, I think, is security,” he said.

“How can we get the police back to the streets; to the homes and to the schools and [yet] at the same time we have thugs among them, who are trying to threaten people and [pose a] menace everywhere?”

Sunday’s developments came a day after Egyptian protesters stormed several state security buildings in Cairo and Alexandria, seizing documents and attempting to retrieve files kept on alleged human rights abuses in the country.

The 500,000-strong state security services are accused of some of the worst human-rights violations while attempting to suppress dissent against Mubarak’s 30-year rule.

Protesters stormed at least six state-security buildings on Saturday, including the services’ main headquarters in Cairo’s northern Nasr City neighbourhood, confronting and attacking some officers.

They scoured the building for official documents, many of which were already shredded in piles or burned in what they believe was an attempt to hide evidence incriminating senior officials in abuses. Some also searched the building for secret detention rooms.

Lubna Darwish, a protester at the scene, told Al Jazeera that they had entered every office in the building.

“We were protesting for three hours … at some point the doors opened and we stormed the building”, she said.

“In every office, we found tonnes and tonnes of shredded paper and left overs … and we found a lot of folders of different cases, and then we found an underground place with around 20 cells. Next to the cells we found this big room where we found folders of almost every [Egyptian] activist … people were finding their own folders … their own photos.”

Around 2,500 people swept into the compound of the state security services headquarters, according to state media.

Free hand

The State Security Investigations (SSI), who were given a free hand by emergency laws under Mubarak, are some of the most powerful symbols of the former regime.

Many protest leaders say despite the fall of Mubarak and his government, the agency remains active in protecting the old regime and trying to sabotage the revolution.

The SSI counts for at least 100,000 employees and a large network of informants, a security official told the AFP news agency.

Sharaf, the new prime minister, pleged on Friday to reform the dreaded security apparatus as he addressed thousands of people in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

“I pray that Egypt will be a free country and that its security apparatus  will serve the citizens,” he said, as thousands chanted “the people want the end of the state security.”

When Mubarak resigned he handed power to a military council that  has vowed to pave the way for a free and democratic system, pledging to bring to justice all those found guilty of abuse.

Activists say that while torture was once reserved for political prisoners and terrorism suspects, it became widely practised even on petty criminal suspects.

The most recent case to have dominated headlines and sparked demonstrations was of Khaled Said, a 28-year-old man beaten to death by two undercover police officers on a street in Alexandria last year.

Other notorious cases include Emad el-Kabir, who was sodomised with a stick in a police station in 2007, with images of the torture recorded on a mobile phone and broadcast on the Internet.

A total of seven police officers have been sentenced for torture or inhumane treatment since 2006, but no one from the SSI has ever been prosecuted for torture.

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