'Phones won't be tapped anymore' in Egypt
CAIRO - Egypt's new interior minister vowed that private telephones will no longer be tapped, MENA news agency reported on Thursday, revealing the extent of the old regime's grip on society.
Mansur al-Issawi also outlined new security measures to restore order to the streets after police disappeared during protests that toppled former strongman Hosni Mubarak.
"The era of tapping private phones is over," Issawi said in an interview with the private ON TV satellite channel, extracts of which were published on MENA.
"There will be no phone tapping except with the prior permission of the general prosecution according to the law," he said.
His statements come amid calls to dissolve the powerful State Security Investigations, a branch of the interior ministry that monitored political dissent and was long accused of corruption and torture.
Issawi said most SSI officers had been not showing up for work, but that the apparatus had not been dissolved.
"The role of the apparatus will be limited to fighting terrorism and political crimes such as espionage," the minister said.
"It will no longer intervene in universities and institutions and will no longer choose the imams of mosques or control arms licences."
Issawi, previously deputy of security in the Cairo and Giza provinces and a former governor of Minya province, is widely hailed for his efforts to curb corruption while in office.
The SSI have been blamed by pro-democracy activists of stirring up tensions between Christians and Muslims and of launching attacks on protesters demanding the apparatus's dissolution.
Insecurity has been rife in recent weeks, with political and religious clashes erupting around the capital, in what the new cabinet described as a "counter-revolution" by diehards of the old regime.
At least 13 people were killed in clashes between Christians and Muslims in Cairo on Tuesday, after days of demonstrations by Coptic Christians furious over the torching of a church in the provincial town of Sol, south of Cairo.
Tahrir Square, the symbolic heart of protests that ousted Mubarak, was on Wednesday the scene of violent clashes between pro-democracy activists and groups of men armed with knives and machetes, believed to be Mubarak loyalists.
And beyond the clashes, a general sense of instability has cast a shadow over Cairo, where few random acts of violence are reported.
During the anti-regime protests, thousands of inmates escaped detention facilities and police disappeared from the streets, spreading insecurity in Cairo, a city always considered safe despite its size.
Isolated reports of carjackings and robberies have fuelled uncontrollable rumours in Cairo, where fear now haunts the streets at night.
Issawi said one of his first priorities would be to restore security.
"There will be patrol cars carrying armed police to control highways, in order to protect citizens from extortion due to armed gangs operating on these highways," the minister said.
When he resigned on February 11, Mubarak handed power to a military council that has vowed to pave the way for a free democratic society.
The military rulers appointed the popular Essam Sharaf to head the caretaker government, and tasked Issawi with the key interior portfolio on Sunday.