An audio recording broadcast by al-Jazeera is said to reveal Egypt’s interior minister, Mohamed Ibrahim, discussing the use of automatic weapons against protesters.
“Use all that is permitted under the law. I think you all understand and you all studied the law. Whatever is permitted by the law, use it without hesitation, any slight hesitation,” says the voice in the tape, “from water to the machine gun.”
According to al-Jazeera, the recording comes from a discussion of the ministry’s preparations for a day of mass demonstrations announced by Islamists in November 2014.
Asked about the apparent leak, an official at the interior ministry in Cairo denied hearing about the issue.
The use of force to disperse demonstrations has become commonplace in Egyptsince the 2011 uprising that toppled president Hosni Mubarak. Deaths in protests surged following the military’s removal of elected president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013.
The interior ministry has in the past publicly vowed to use live ammunition to defend itself and government installations. In August 2013, government forces used live bullets against pro-Morsi demonstrators, killing hundreds in what became the deadliest single incident of political violence in Egypt’s recent history.
Thousands have been arrested in the government’s clampdown since July 2013, including journalists and pro-democracy activists.
On Tuesday, the Egyptian president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, approved new measures that widen the scope of the security crackdown, giving the state more powers to ban groups on charges including harming national unity and disrupting public transport.
Existing laws already criminalised a wide range of actions including insulting the judiciary and insulting the president. Rights advocates assert that such vague statutes give the judiciary a free hand to prosecute dissidents and others.
Since Morsi’s removal, authorities have branded the Muslim Brotherhood, which backed him, a terrorist organisation, arrested its leaders, and sent the group as a whole underground. On Monday Egypt’s social solidarity ministry reportedly dissolved 169 NGOs allegedly linked with the Brotherhood.