Though the Cabinet reshuffle announced on Thursday didn’t come as a big surprise, Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim’s replacement with Major General Magdy Abdel Ghaffar was an unexpected move for many analysts.
“There was a desire to replace Ibrahim,” explains journalist Abdallah al-Sinawy, “but his role in June 30 and the assassination attempt on his life delayed that decision. In the end, however, there was no other option.”
There were several reasons to sack Ibrahim, according to Sinawy — chief among them his ineffective policies when it comes to confronting terrorist attacks. The recent high turnover of top ministry aides reflects the institution’s confusion about how to handle the current state of security, he points out.
Recent human rights violations committed by security forces against civilians may also have speeded up the decision to dismiss the minister. Sinawy asserts that Ibrahim was reluctant to hold ministry personnel accountable for incidents like the fatal shooting of activist Shaimaa al-Sabbagh in a peaceful protest, despite President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s order to bring the perpetrator to justice.
In addition, escalating confrontations with security forces and the minister’s seeming inability to provide security without creating new enemies of the Sisi administration are definitive factors that led to Ibrahim’s dismissal, asserts lawyer Khaled Aly.
Ibrahim was under the erroneous assumption that the only way he could tighten his control of the ministry was to loosen certain standards, says Aly. This gave way to policies that were even “worse than the policies of Mubarak’s time,” engendering violence that impacted peaceful political forces and even regular civilians, he contends.
Aly believes that relations between the presidency and the Interior Ministry became strained as they tried to determine their respective “territory of control,” pointing to General Ahmed Gamal Eddin’s appointment as the president’s security consultant as a symptom of the struggle.
Recent events have enabled the Sisi administration to treat Ibrahim as a scapegoat and place the blame for Egypt’s deteriorating security situation squarely on him, Aly continues.
“Maybe Sisi was waiting for the change in government that would come with the new parliament,” Aly says, “but the recent events and the postponement of the elections forced him to act now — especially given the mounting violations committed against civilians, which may increase the level of violence against the state.”
But Sinawy doesn’t think the change in ministers is enough to combat the current impasse — only a change in the ministry’s policies and a true political will for reform would keep past mistakes from reoccurring.
The new minister has several pressing issues to address, says Sinawy, such as reconstructing the security apparatus based on the values of human rights as enshrined in the Constitution, assessing the training and arming of police forces who must now confront terrorist acts, and prioritizing criminal security as much as political security.
“We need a firm hand against terrorism and a loving one for citizens. Without the proper attention to these issues, the mistakes that led to sacking Ibrahim will reoccur,” Sinawy concludes.
But retired General Abdel Latif al-Bedeiny, who formerly served as assistant interior minister, thinks Ghaffar’s appointment is a positive change.
With Ghaffar leading the ministry, Bedeiny expects “a new turn in security policies — we will not see killings in marches, and the use of violence will decrease.” If the administration had wanted to maintain the status quo in regards to state-sponsored violence, then General Ahmed Gamal Eddin would have been chosen for the position, Bedeiny claims.
The authorities are starting to understand the danger of excessive violence against protesters and other civilians, Bedeiny says.
“We are in the 21st century — the increase of force against a political faction will only instigate fundamentalism in other factions. It’s in the local authority’s best interest to reconcile with the masses, and by reconciliation I mean confronting those who jeopardize the safety of the state or the citizens, and to allow freedom of expression. Hiring General Abdel Ghaffar reinforces that,” he asserts.
Bedeiny thinks Ghaffar’s appointment also reflects Egypt’s urgent need to maintain stability at home in the context of an unstable situation across the region.
But for Sinawy, it’s still too early to say what the reshuffle might mean, particularly given how little information about Ghaffar is available, and how few interviews he’s given.
Security reform needs a long-term strategy and constant dialogue with political forces and civil society organizations in order to reach a reconciliation between the police and the people, Sinawy contends. If there is a plan in place for reconciliation, he says, then certain signs will soon appear.
Ghaffar was born in 1952 in the Monufiya village of Tela. He graduated from the Police Academy in 1974, then did a three-year stint as lieutenant in the Central Security Forces. He spent the majority of his career at the State Security Investigation Services, until he was appointed the head of the Ports Authority in 2009. After the January 25 revolution, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces asked Ghaffar to serve as deputy head of the newly formed National Security Agency (NSA). He assumed the top post at the NSA in July 2013, but was forced into retirement by former President Mohamed Morsi’s administration in October 2012.