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"We are calling on anyone anywhere who is experiencing a security vacuum to fill it with popular efforts," Assem Abdel-Maged, a senior leader of the Gamaa, said on Monday.
Later the same night, hundreds of Gamaa members toured the city of Assiut on motorbikes, assuring residents through loudspeakers that the group was capable of ensuring security in the city and inviting Muslims and Christians to join the "popular committees." Christians account for some 35 percent of the population in Assiut province.
A joint statement signed by 15 Islamist groups, including the Gamaa and the Brotherhood, said that they "valued" the role played by "honest policemen" and are opposed to any attempt to politicize the force.
They warned against any attempt to destabilize the country, calling on all political forces to support the police "by all possible means, including popular committees if need be."
Egypt’s security woes date back to the days of the uprising against Mubarak, which was sparked in part by hatred for the police force over years of abuse of power and brutality.
The force melted away after the revolution’s deadliest day of clashes on Jan. 28, 2011 and police have since returned to work. But police have yet to fully take back the streets.
The security vacuum exacerbated by the striking police and violence in the heart of Cairo on Saturday appeared to be fueling the calls for creating popular committees to aid in policing.
Thousands of angry soccer fans rampaged through the heart of the capital on Saturday, attacking and setting ablaze the headquarters of the national soccer federation after they torched a police club.
The twin fires sent columns of thick black smoke billowing over the city of some 18 million. The fans were angered by the acquittal of seven of nine policemen tried for their alleged part in a soccer riot last year that killed 74 people.
Also, police pulled out from the coastal city of Port Said on Friday after days of deadly clashes with protesters who torched the security headquarters. The military is now in control of the city, which has been in open rebellion against Morsi’s rule since late January.
On Sunday, drivers of Cairo’s popular communal taxis staged a strike to protest fuel shortages, creating a traffic nightmare on the already congested streets of the city. Some of the drivers, armed with knives and guns, attacked others who did not observe the strike or got into fights with other motorists angered by their action.
The statement by the attorney general’s office raised fears that it could provide legal cover for Morsi supporters to take on anti-government protesters.
The right of civilians to make citizen arrests is enshrined in a little known article in Egypt’s penal code. The article says that such arrests should only be made when a citizen witnesses a crime that warrants holding the suspect in police custody in the run-up to a trial.
That condition, according to lawyer and rights activist Mohsen Bahnasi, assumes familiarity with the law by ordinary civilians.
"This statement paves the way for the creation of militias at a time when the country is going through a difficult transition," he said.
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