Egypt’s Sisi promises laws to tackle police brutality

Pledge made after hundreds protest outside security headquarters in Cairo over fatal shooting of taxi driver by officer.

Egypt’s president said that he will introduce new laws to curb police abuse inside the country.

Abdel Fattah el-Sisi urged the country’s interior minister on Friday to present proposals to parliament that hold any policemen who assault citizens accountable for their actions.

The meeting came a day after a taxi driver was killed by a police officer in the street, prompting a protest in front of the Cairo Security Directorate [police headquarters] by hundreds of people.

“This shows that members of the police are now out of control. It’s become easy for officers to use their weapons in the most unnecessary situations,” said Abdel Fattah Fayed, Al Jazeera’s editor of Egyptian affairs.

The fatal shooting prompted a protest by hundreds outside Cairo's police headquarters on Thursday night [Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters]
The fatal shooting prompted a protest by hundreds outside Cairo’s police headquarters on Thursday night [Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters]

The driver was Mohamed Ismail, a 24-year-old who was shot and killed by a police officer in El-Darb El-Ahmar, an impoverished district of Cairo.

Ismail and the officer were reportedly in an argument before the officer pulled out his gun and shot Ismail in the head.

A statement released by the Cairo Security Directorate stated that Ismail was killed “by mistake”. It also referred to the shooter as a “low-ranking” police officer.

Egyptian newspaper Al Masry Al Youm reported that the officer was arrested and transported to a hospital in “critical condition” after a mob allegedly beat him and another person who was accompanying him that night.

Witness account

Fadel Ibrahim was at a nearby coffee shop when he heard gunfire. When he arrived, he saw the police officer lying on the ground with major wounds to his face and body.

He initially thought the officer was dead. 

Speaking to Al Jazeera over the phone from Cairo, Ibrahim said: “I didn’t put my hand on his neck to feel his pulse, but he was in such poor shape that he looked like he wasn’t breathing. The beating was hysterical, I really thought he was dead.”

Hundreds of people then surrounded the Security Directorate, which was minutes away, chanting anti-police slogans.

An Arabic hashtag named after the district trended online on Thursday – pictures and videos of the demonstrations were circulated. An image of Ismail’s bleeding body on the ground was also shared online.

Bloodstains marked the spot where Ismail was killed by a
Bloodstains marked the spot where Ismail was killed by a “low-ranking” police officer on Thursday [Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters]

While there are differing accounts on what prompted the argument, Ibrahim says the argument between Ismail and the officer was allegedly over a taxi fare.

After both of them started cursing at each other, the officer shot Ismail.

“He didn’t even shoot a bullet in the air, he shot the driver in the head,” Ibrahim said.

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A video on Friday showed two police officers talking to a crowd of demonstrators outside the directorate.

“Are we in Iraq?” one officer asked the crowd. “This is a lawful country.”

Egypt’s presidency released a statement saying that el-Sisi has given Magdi Abdel Ghaffar, the interior minister, 15 days to submit to parliament proposals for law amendments that tackle police abuses.

Heat on police

Last week, thousands of doctors and their supporters gathered outside the Egyptian Medical Syndicate in Cairo, calling for the prosecution of police officers who allegedly assaulted two doctors in Cairo’s Matariya hospital.

The policemen involved were questioned about the assault and then released, setting off the protest and an emergency meeting among doctors.

Furthermore, the country’s interior ministry has also denied allegations of its involvement in the death of Giulio Regeni, an Italian student whose body was found showing signs of torture, earlier this month.

Fayed said that Egypt should treat the death of Mohamed Ismail as a political crisis.

“Incidents like this will continue and may increase if these actions by the police and security forces go on without repercussions,” he said.

In January, Egypt marked its fifth anniversary since the 2011 uprisings. Police brutality was among the reasons that drove Egyptians to Tahrir Square during the uprisings that led to the fall of longtime leader Hosni Mubarak.

Follow Mohamed Hashem on Twitter: @mhashem_

Source: Al Jazeera