The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) is currently mulling draft legislation aimed at allowing the state to use private security firms for domestic policing duties, prominent FJP leader Saber Abul-Fotouh said on Saturday.
The proposal comes within the context of an ongoing nationwide strike by large numbers of Egyptian police officers.
According to Abul-Fotouh, who served as head of the labour committee in the People’s Assembly (the now-dissolved lower house of Egypt’s parliament), the legislation would give privately-owned security companies the right to carry arms and make arrests.
The proposed law – which Abul-Fotouh wants referred to the Shura Council (the upper house of Egypt’s parliament, currently endowed with legislative powers) for ratification – is ostensibly meant to fill the security vacuum resulting from the ongoing police officers’ strike.
“I’m calling for a draft law to be submitted to the Shura Council, and put before a popular referendum, to allow private security firms to safeguard the state,” Abul-Fotouh told Ahram Online.
“I also recommend the formation of popular committees tasked with safeguarding the citizenry and state institutions in the event that police continue their strike action,” he added.
The twin calls come against the backdrop of what Abul-Fotouh describes as “the blackmail of the interior ministry by former regime loyalists who are spearheading a counter-revolution, which is to blame for Egypt’s current state of turmoil.”
Critics, however, argue that the proposals will simply serve to alienate the public and stir up further unrest.
Zakareya Abdel-Aziz, a former head of the Egyptian Judges Club, slammed the notion as “utterly absurd,” warning that such moves – if they were put into effect – could potentially lead to civil war.
“Such a move [the employment of private security firms] would mean the replacement of institutionalised security operations with popular, non-technical [security] operations,” Abdel-Aziz asserted.
Abul-Fotouh, for his part, insisted the proposal was his own and had “nothing to do with the FJP,” stressing that the move was not intended to serve the interests of any particular individuals or groups.
Meanwhile, the proposal was met with outrage by a number of rights activists and political figures, some of whom said it was meant to consolidate the Muslim Brotherhood’s grip on state institutions and effectively legalise Brotherhood-formed militias.
Ahmed Fawzi, a rights lawyer and member of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, described the move as “a continuation of the Islamist group’s ongoing endeavours to monopolise power in all of its forms, whether it be police, army or judiciary.”
Fawzi also dismissed proposals to form ‘popular committees’ to maintain public security along the lines of those seen during Egypt’s 18-day Tahrir Square uprising following the countrywide withdrawal of police.
“We didn’t have a state at the time [during the uprising],” he said. “If they [the FJP] think we’re now at a similar juncture, then we should simply revolt all over again and re-build the state.”
Ashraf Abdel-Latif of Egypt’s ultra-conservative Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya also appeared to take issue with Abul-Fotouh’s initiative, despite similar proposals recently voiced by his group.
“Such committees shouldn’t be armed unless they’re affiliated with the interior ministry,” said Abdel-Latif.
On Friday, Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya announced plans to establish “security militias” tasked with securing the Upper Egyptian city of Assiut in the event that striking police failed to return to work.
Five police stations in Assiut joined the strike on Friday.
“We have called for setting up security committees – answerable to the interior ministry – tasked with combating thuggery and vandalism,” Abdel-Latif clarified. “The people themselves should safeguard the state rather than mandating private firms with maintaining security.”
In a related development on Sunday, the office of Prosecutor-General Talaat Ibrahim called on members of the public to exercise their legal right to make citizen’s arrests to stop those found committing acts of vandalism.
Last week, discontent within the ranks of Egypt’s police apparatus boiled over, culminating in a nationwide strike.
Police personnel in several Egyptian governorates – including Cairo and Alexandria – have since joined the strike to demand the dismissal of the interior minister and a halt to what they see as their being used as pawns in the country’s ongoing political stalemate.