News Analysis: Egyptians debate over citizens' "right" to arrest citizens

2013-03-13 21:38:42 GMT2013-03-14 05:38:42(Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

by Shaimaa Behery, Mahmoud Fouly

CAIRO, March 13 (Xinhua) -- Egypt's Prosecutor-General Talaat Ibrahim Abdallah recently encouraged citizens to arrest lawbreakers and criminals, which has stirred nationwide debates and raised concerns about the rise of Islamist militia.

The controversial statement came amid worsening security condition, when supporters of Islamist-oriented President Mohamed Morsi and his opposition clashed in the streets and some 50 police stations nationwide went on strike.

Nasser Amin, legal expert and head of Arab Center for Judiciary Independence, told Xinhua that Abdullah's call would give "green light for Islamist militia to control the society and replace the police."

Amin added that the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups are thus given "a legal cover" to practice the role of the police in the streets, which might lead to further confrontation.

Sheikh Tarek Bedair, head of the Islamist group al-Jamaa al- Islamiya in Upper Egypt's governorate of Assiut, told Xinhua that the group had already formed "popular security committees" to protect citizens due to the lack of police.

"If the policemen's strike continues, creating more chaos and more thugs, we will regrettably have to fill in the blank with our own men and popular committees," Bedair said.

Similarly, the Brotherhood in Assiut said that if the police do not return to their job, the group will keep social order through their own popular committees.

"The prosecutor's statement could be misused by people," Mohamed al-Saeed, legal expert and member of former constitution- writing assembly, told Xinhua.

"For example, if a person has a problem with another, he could conspire with other people and claim that they have caught him red- handed committing a crime or a theft," said al-Saeed.

Al-Saeed accused the Brotherhood and other Islamist groups of attempting to replace the police with their militia.

However, Amr Abdel-Hady, legal expert, considered the prosecutor's statement as merely a means to "implement" Article 35 of the Egyptian Criminal Act which gives citizens the right to arrest anyone who is in the middle of a crime, such as robbing an apartment, stealing a wallet or harassing a girl.

"The prosecutor general just meant to make the people aware of their rights to arrest and hand over criminals and lawbreakers, in a bid to control the state of chaos and violence that has recently aggravated in the country," Abdel-Hady told Xinhua.

In response to the debates, Prosecutor-General Abdullah issued a statement Monday stressing that the new measure is designed to remind citizens of their right to help maintain justice.

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