World TribuneWednesday, March 13th, 2013
CAIRO — The new Islamist regime has encouraged vigilante groups amid rising unrest in Egypt.
Egypt’s chief prosecutor has urged civilians to arrest anti-government rioters.
The prosecutor, Talat Abdullah, said Egyptians should be encouraged to make what he termed citizen arrests in an effort to stop vandalism.
They should exercise the right afforded them by Article 37 of Egypt’s criminal procedure law to arrest anyone found committing a crime and refer them to official personnel,” a statement by the prosecutor’s office said.
The statement, welcomed by the ruling Muslim Brotherhood, has angered the opposition as well as the military. Military sources said the call by the prosecutor-general could result in Islamist militias assigned to attack opponents of President Mohammed Morsi.
“This policy crosses the state’s red lines,” a military source told Egypt’s official Al Ahram daily. “Egypt’s armed forces don’t stand on the side of any political faction, but that’s not an excuse for certain groups to begin forming militias.”
The appeal for vigilantes came amid a strike by thousands of police officers in Alexandria, Cairo and other major cities. The Egyptian Army has been ordered to take over security from the police in Port Said, hardest hit in the current unrest.
“This [vigilantes] could prompt the military to intervene,” the military source said.
Later, Abdullah issued another statement that denied the authority for citizen’s arrest. The second statement said the prosecutor “did not include granting judicial arrest powers to citizens, but rather granting these judicial arrest powers to officers as defined officially by the law.”
Still, a former Al Qaida-aligned movement announced it would establish so-called security committees to replace police. Gamaa Islamiya, rehabilitated by Morsi, said it would patrol cities in Upper Egypt.
“This system is applied in other countries,” Gamaa spokesman Ahmed Iskandarani said.
The prospect of vigilantes was expected to hurt tourism, Egypt’s largest earner of foreign currency. The Egyptian Coalition to Support Tourism raised the prospect that Egyptian merchants and taxi drivers could extort visitors.
“If a tourist rebuffed an Egyptian merchant, refusing to buy something, the merchant might accuse the tourist of spying and arrest him,” coalition director Ihab Mussa said.
The Muslim Brotherhood, said to have formed its own militia, welcomed the initial appeal for civilians to capture suspected rioters. Egyptian Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim, accused of using security forces to protect the Brotherhood, dismissed the prospect that vigilantes or militias
would be allowed to replace or augment the police.
From the minister to the youngest recruit in the force, we will not tolerate militias in Egypt,” Ibrahim said. “That will be only when we are totally dead, finished.”