Egypt's el-Sissi replaces interior minister in reshuffle

AP News
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Posted: Mar 05, 2015 2:41 PM
Egypt's el-Sissi replaces interior minister in reshuffle

CAIRO (AP) — Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi on Thursday replaced the country's powerful interior minister as part of a Cabinet reshuffle, in what was taken as a sign of growing frustration at the security forces' inability to staunch an increasingly virulent insurgency.

Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim played a key role in el-Sissi's 2013 ouster of President Mohammed Morsi and the subsequent bloody crackdown on his Islamist supporters that left hundreds dead and thousands in detention.

But despite his bloody track record, Ibrahim's forces had struggled to combat a burgeoning insurgency in the strategic Sinai peninsula and failed to halt a series of low-grade bomb attacks in Cairo and other cities.

Ibrahim was replaced by another police general, Magdy Abdel-Ghaffar, a career officer in the feared State Security Agency who briefly led the agency in 2011 and 2012. The choice of a veteran officer indicated no letup in the government's heavy-handed treatment of its opponents.

El-Sissi later named Ibrahim an adviser to the prime minister, a largely ceremonial position, in what appeared to be a symbolic show of gratitude for his support of the 2013 military takeover. The move resembled one taken in December, when el-Sissi pensioned off intelligence chief Mohammed Farid el-Tohamy while awarding him one of the state's highest awards. El-Tohamy, a longtime patron of el-Sissi, was also instrumental in the crackdown on the Brotherhood.

Ibrahim's removal followed an uptick in bomb attacks blamed on Islamic militants targeting the heart of the heavily protected capital. The latest such attack was on Monday, when a bomb at a police checkpoint killed two people outside the nation's highest appeals court in downtown Cairo. Another bomb killed two people in the southern city of Aswan on Sunday, and a similar wave of explosions rocked the Cairo district of Giza last week, killing one and injuring about 10.

On Wednesday, a massive fire destroyed most of the city's showcase convention center in an eastern suburb. No foul play was suspected, but the fire was widely seen as the latest example of government negligence.

The Cabinet reshuffle also saw the replacement of the ministers of culture, tourism, education, telecommunications and agriculture. El-Sissi introduced two new portfolios, for vocational training and population.

It was the first Cabinet reshuffle since el-Sissi took office in June, nearly a year after he ousted Morsi amid widespread protests against Egypt's first freely elected leader.

Morsi had named Ibrahim interior minister in January 2013, but six months later Ibrahim and his largely militarized police force sided with the millions of protesters who took to the streets demanding Morsi step down.

Ibrahim later led the crackdown on Morsi's now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood as well as the liberal and secular youth activists behind the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

Thousands of people, mostly Islamists, have been detained, and hundreds were killed when security forces violently dispersed pro-Morsi protest camps in Cairo in August 2013. The following month, Ibrahim escaped unharmed from a suicide car bomb that targeted him.

The police since then have largely succeeded in stifling protests, but they have also been dogged by allegations of brutality and negligence.

Last month, police used tear gas against fans trying to enter a Cairo stadium ahead of a popular soccer match. At least 20 were killed in the resulting stampede.

In January, police allegedly shot dead an unarmed female protester in a peaceful demonstration in downtown Cairo. El-Sissi had publicly ordered Ibrahim to bring Shaimaa al-Sabbagh's killers to justice. The president mentioned the 36-year-old mother again in an address to the nation last week, saying no official will escape justice if found responsible.

Police brutality was one of the main grievances underpinning the 2011 uprising that toppled Mubarak, and activists say the current government has shown even less respect for human rights.

But el-Sissi's decision to maintain the longtime tradition of appointing top police officers like the 62-year-old Abdel-Ghaffar as interior ministers indicates he is unlikely to pursue a more sweeping overhaul of the force.

Abdel-Ghaffar, who served as assistant interior minister prior to his retirement in 2012, built a reputation during his years at the State Security Agency as an intelligence-oriented officer who preferred gathering information over fieldwork like raids or stakeouts.

In a June 2011 television interview, while deputy chief of the agency, he made a rare acknowledgment by a serving police officer of the "excesses and mistakes" made by the agency.