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 Anti-riot police
Anti-riot police

Under Mubarak, Egypt had one of the lowest crime rates in the world. The President maintained one of the largest-ever internal security forces in the region, reaching nearly one million personnel in a more than a dozen security departments and branches. Anti-riot police alone, known as the State Security Forces (after the revolution renamed ‘Central Security’), had more than 250,000 soldiers throughout Egypt. The apparent omnipresence of security personnel throughout the country had a dampening effect on crime, as well as suppressing political opposition. The police had a reputation of practicing systematic torture and other abuse of detainees and prisoners. Thus, police and other security establishments were among the first to be targeted by the millions of Egyptians who revolted against Mubarak. After less than four days of heated clashes with protesters, the security forces collapsed and were withdrawn.

The new military rulers sought to rebuild the Interior Ministry, but the lack of security remains the largest problem since the Mubarak’s fall. Human-rights activists charge that police officers were on an undeclared strike because they were angry that nearly three hundred of their colleagues were put on trial for killing protesters during the 2011 protests. They have also complained that the police have lost the respect – and especially the fear – of Egyptians that they enjoyed for decades. The former Interior Minister, Habib al-Adli, was charged with building an undeclared alliance with government-paid thugs (baltagiya), whom he used during parliamentary elections to attack government opponents so that the state would not be seen to be involved directly in the violence. Those thugs, mainly poor, young, unemployed petty criminals, are now charged with carrying out most of the crimes committed in Egypt, due to the lack of security personnel.

Much organized crime, violent crime, and theft in Egypt is drug-related. The most popular drugs in Egypt are hashish, bango (marijuana), legal pharmaceutical products, opium, and heroin. Some incidents of violence, directed mainly against women, arise from family ‘honour’ codes.

Egypt has been known as safe for foreigners. Kidnappings of foreign nationals for political or commercial objectives have been uncommon, and the government has been committed to safeguarding visitors and foreign property. The greatest threat to tourists has been attacks by extremist militants, who targeted the tourist sector deliberately to damage the economy and undermine the regime, as was the case with the bombings of resorts in the Sinai Peninsula between 2003 and 2005.

Tourism and visits by foreigners have, however, dropped sharply since the revolution of 25 January. During the demonstrations, foreigners – specifically journalists and foreigners taking part in the demonstrations – became targets of the security forces. Some foreigners were harassed, arrested, and/or deported. Throughout the year following the fall of Mubarak, foreign reporters and photographers were harassed by security and army forces while covering demonstrations, sit-ins, or protest marches. Moreover, the police, security forces, and army made efforts to portray the revolution as influenced by foreign interests, thereby effectively creating an atmosphere of xenophobia. This reached its peak with a TV commercial portraying a foreigner speaking Arabic fluently who was revealed to be a spy. The audience was advised to beware of ‘such foreigners’. The commercial was heavily criticized inside and outside Egypt and was removed from television shortly after it aired.

The withdrawal of police and security forces from the street after Mubarak stepped down created an unstable security situation in the country. The lack of control, even in traffic, and the sudden spread of firearms posed great challenges for the army, which was forced to take on the responsibility of enforcing security on a daily basis. The resulting increase in crime not only added to people’s weariness with the revolution and its benefits but also enabled the police and security forces to return, soon after the recent presidential elections, more or less as they had left, with the same brutality and force.

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