Can Abdel Fattah el-Sisi find himself unwittingly presiding over Egypt’s transition to democracy?
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has apologised to the nation for human right abuses committed by the police.
“I apologise to every Egyptian citizen who has been subjected to any abuse. I am accountable for anything that happens to an Egyptian citizen,” Sisi said on Sunday, a year after he took office.
But he presented no clear plan for addressing the problems.
The apology came after a police officer beat a lawyer with a shoe last week, an attack that sparked a general one-day strike by the country’s lawyers.
Sisi assumed power after a military coup against the democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi. Morsi has since been jailed and was recently sentenced to death over a 2011 mass prison break.
Activists say the police, whose power waned as former president Hosni Mubarak fell, now act with impunity, a charge the interior ministry denies.
The courts have recently taken up several cases where police are accused of killing civilians, including a young woman commemorating the 2011 uprising, a Morsi supporter detained in hospital, and a lawyer allegedly tortured to death in a police station.
The Lawyer’s Syndicate issued the call for the Saturday strike to protest a deputy police chief who attacked a lawyer in the country’s Nile Delta.
The lawyers’ strike was a top headline in many Egyptian newspapers on Sunday, with many Egyptian media outlets reporting 90 percent participation by lawyers.
On Sunday, a misdemeanour court in the Nile Delta province of Damietta sentenced the deputy police chief, Ahmed Abdul Hadi, to three months in prison and set his bail at about $390 on charges he beat the lawyer with a shoe, a serious insult in the Arab world.
But the court also sentenced the beaten lawyer, Emad Sami, to one month in prison and set bail at $130 on a charge of verbally insulting the same officer.
Trials of police, while rare, have raised hopes that the police, who rights groups accused of widespread torture under Mubarak, will be held more to account.
Nearly all the 100 policemen tried for killing protesters in the 2011 revolt were acquitted, along with former Interior Minister Habib al-Adly and top aides.
“I say to our sons in the police or any government agency they must be mindful that they are dealing with human beings,” Sisi was quoted as saying on Sunday by state news agency MENA.