FJP mulls draft law granting private firms arrest powers

Talks of the Interior Ministry contracting private security companies have created a stir, especially after a leading member of the Freedom and Justice Party called for granting them arrest powers.

News reports claimed negotiations are under way between Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim and private security companies to aid the ministry in clamping down on protests and widespread unrest.

Saber Abul Fotouh, head of the FJP labor committee, called for alternative methods to maintain security in the country in light of a recent wave of police strike that saw Central Security Forces close their camps and dozens of police stations close nationwide.

Among Abul Fotouh’s suggested methods is a draft law that would allow private security personnel to arrest citizens and hand them over to the prosecutor general, raising fears of laxer laws creating fertile grounds for armed militias.

On his Twitter account, the chairperson of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, Hafez Abu Seada, said no party or parliament is entitled to form “special forces” or “militias” with arrest, arguing it is unconstitutional.

However, Abul Fotouh downplays any talk of militias, blaming it on media hype, and explaining that he rather seeks “legal measures” to maintain security.

He tells Egypt Independent that the draft law was merely a personal suggestion that is a result of the current crisis, namely the police strike.

A suitable solution, Abul Fotouh says, would be drafting a law that would issue licenses to grant private security companies legal powers “to protect citizens and institutions from any assault.”

The draft law, he says, would allow private security companies to “combat assailants and hand them over to either the prosecution or the Justice Ministry.”

He also suggests forming people’s committees akin to those formed during the 18-day uprising in 2011 after the police forces withdrew from the streets.   

Abul Fotouh explains that the media created unsubstantiated rumors about the formation of militias, and that he only seeks legal methods to maintain security, bound by the suggested draft law.

He says ideally, the Interior Ministry would be doing its job in maintaining order. However, he laments the “scheming by remnants of the ousted regime and [former Interior Minister] Habib al-Adly’s followers,” who he alleges are causing the crisis.   

In January, the Shura Council approved a controversial law granting the Armed Forces judiciary powers to arrest and try civilians. The Armed Forces were also previously given temporary arrest powers during the constitutional referendum in December.

For its part, the Interior Ministry media office has said it had no knowledge of any negotiations with private security companies.

Tarek Khedr, head of the constitutional law department at the Police Academy, fully rejects the idea of giving private security companies arrest powers.

“Private ­­­­security companies cannot under any circumstances obtain arrest powers,” Khedr says, adding that it would undermine the state’s authority and fuel the current state of polarization, further spreading chaos and disorder.

Khedr sheds light on private security companies’ “legislative limits,” saying they have to be redefined.

Only police are entitled to arrest powers, Khedr explains, and the Armed Forces were the only exception.

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