- Associated Press - Thursday, March 5, 2015

CAIRO (AP) - Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi reshuffled his Cabinet on Thursday, replacing the powerful minister in charge of the nation’s police along with six other ministers, state television reported.

Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim, who oversees police, was replaced by another police general, Magdy Abdel-Ghaffar, a career officer in the feared State Security Agency who briefly led the agency in 2012.

El-Sissi later named Ibrahim an adviser to the prime minister, a largely ceremonial position with little, if any, executive powers. The appointment appeared to be a show of gratitude for Ibrahim’s support for el-Sissi when, as military chief, he led the 2013 ouster of Mohammed Morsi, Egypt’s first freely elected leader.

Ibrahim’s removal followed an uptick in bomb attacks blamed on Islamic militants targeting the heart of the heavily protected Egyptian capital. The latest such attack was on Monday, when a bomb at a police checkpoint killed two people outside the nation’s highest appeal court in downtown Cairo.

On Wednesday, a massive fire destroyed most of the city’s showcase convention center in an eastern suburb. No foul play was suspected, but the fire was interpreted by the president as Ibrahim’s latest failure, according to Egyptian officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Abdel-Ghaffar built a reputation during his years at the State Security Agency as an intelligence-oriented officer who preferred gathering information over fieldwork like raids or stakeouts. In a June 2011 television interview, while deputy chief of the agency, he made a rare acknowledgment by a serving police officer of the “excesses and mistakes” made by the organization under Mubarak.

Abdel-Ghaffar served as assistant interior minister prior to his retirement in 2013.

This was the first Cabinet reshuffle since el-Sissi, a solider-turned-politician, took office in June, nearly a year after he ousted the Islamist Morsi.

Army and security forces have been struggling to contain a burgeoning Islamic insurgency that has significantly intensified since Morsi’s ouster.

While the army has mostly shouldered the fight against militants in the northern part of the strategic Sinai Peninsula, police have been dealing with terror attacks in mainland Egypt that have lately targeted busy civilian areas as well as security forces.

Ibrahim, who escaped unharmed from a suicide car bombing in September 2013, was named interior minister in January 2013, when Morsi was president. He and his largely militarized police force sided with the millions who took to the streets in June 2013 to demand that Morsi step down.

He later led the harsh crackdown on Morsi’s now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood as well as members of liberal and secular youth groups behind the 2011 uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak. Thousands of people, mostly Islamists, have since been detained and hundreds were killed when security forces moved against sit-in protests by Morsi supporters in Cairo in August 2013.

In addition to their apparent failure to prevent terror attacks or reduce their frequency, police have lately faced growing claims of excessive force and negligence. Last month, they used tear gas to stop young fans from storming a Cairo stadium ahead of a key soccer match. At least 20 were killed in the resulting stampede.

In January, they allegedly shot dead an unarmed female protester in a peaceful demonstration. El-Sissi has put Ibrahim on the spot over the death, publicly ordering him to bring Shimaa al-Sabbagh’s killers to justice. The president mentioned the 36-year-old mother again in an address to the nation last week, saying no official will escape justice if found responsible. Rights activists blame the police for her death.

Police brutality was one of the main causes of the 2011 uprising against Mubarak. Activists and rights lawyers say police under el-Sissi show even less respect for human rights than during Mubarak’s days.

El-Sissi on Thursday also replaced the ministers of culture, tourism, education, housing, telecommunications and agriculture. He also introduced a new Cabinet portfolio, a minister for vocational training.

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