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Egypt's lower-ranking officers: A struggle for fairness or an abuse of power?

Lower-ranking police officers in Egypt call for social and economic demands from interior ministry, as the government seeks to bolster their public image

Menna Alaa El-Din, Friday 28 Aug 2015
Egypt
An Egyptian Lower-ranking policemen secure Egypt’s national police academy during trial of leaders of banned-Brotherhood in 2015. Police conscripts stand guard in background. [AP]
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The general assembly for Egyptian lower-ranking policemen is set to hold a nationwide meeting on 5 September to discuss the government's promised response to their economic demands and the possibility of a nation-wide escalation.

On Saturday, the lower-ranking police officers held a sit-in at Sharqiya’s security directorate, calling for financial and social benefits.

The sit-in, which lasted two days, saw violent clashes between the low-ranking police officers and the Central Security Forces late on Sunday.

On Monday, after lengthy negotiations with interior ministry officials, the lower-ranking policemen agreed to suspend their sit-in, saying were promised to have some of their demands met by 2 September.

Samy Abdel-Shafy, one of the protesting lower-ranking policemen in Sharqiya, told Ahram Online that the sit-in was the final resort for having their voices heard.

Abdel-Shafy says that the policemen have made several attempts to voice their demands to the ministry through regular channels - as late as July - before they reached a decision to stage a sit-in.

The protesting policemen are demanding to be paid late bonuses for the months of June and July, a Suez Canal bonus similar to that recently awarded by the government to army personnel, a 100% raise in the risk allowance, a raise in pensions, and access to treatment in police hospitals reserved for higher-ranking police officers.

“We want social justice. We want to be able to live a sustainable life,” Abdel-Shafy told Ahram Online.

Lower-ranking officers: birth, defeat, and return

In 1967, late President Gamal Abdel-Nasser established a specialised institute to recruit and train lower-ranking policemen. 

Following Nasser's defeat in the June 1967 War, the government, historians note, invented the lower-ranking position (Amin El-Shorta) as a mean of bolstering the police force in order to deal with rising internal unrest.

The students, who would study law and various law-enforcement subjects, graduated to assist regular officers who spend four years in the traditional Police Academy.

After 24 years of service, the law allowed a lower-ranking officer to be promoted to first lieutenant.

However, the specialized institute of Tora has been closed down indefinitely since 2012 and no longer accepts applicants. The institute of Tora, however, is still open for the mandatory training of lower-ranking policemen who, for example, aim to be promoted to the rank of first lieutenant. 

Another specialised institute in Mansoura has also shut down. 

There are currently about 300,000 lower-ranking policemen in the police force. 

The duties of lower-ranking officers include police station tasks, work for the investigation departments as informants, traffic organisation, and assisting police officers during their work in different facilities.

Since protesters overpowered the police force in the January 2011 uprising, the government has been working to reestablish the police force's credibility among the public and restore its moral authority.

As millions of others did after the 2011 uprising, lower-ranking policemen, fresh from "the dark days of January rebellion," also organised themselves through independent unions, protests, and sit-ins to make economic demands on the government. 

They were able to secure higher wages and forced the government to eliminate the ministry's use of martial courts to punish wrongdoing.

In the last four years since Mubarak's ousting, the government has achieved relative success in rehabilitating the police force in popular eyes, especially as policemen joined the July 2013 popular demonstrations, which led to the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood regime.

An unexpected development

Despite overall success in bolstering the image of a unified police, Egypt witnessed a dubious "security against security" confrontation on Sunday involving tear gas and warning shots between two bodies which belong to the same ministry.

The lower ranking policemen, referred to in Arabic as Omanaa El-Shorta (plural) and Amin El-Shorta (singular), fired warning shots into the air after the police’s Central Security Forces (CSF) tried to disperse their sit-in by tear-gassing them.

The conflict gave a chance for speculations on whether a gap was growing between various bodies within the interior ministry especially in the midst of an Islamic insurgency targeting Egyptian police and army. 

To add to tens of officers and lower-ranking officers and conscripts killed by Islamist militants in the last two years, three lower-ranking policemen were killed in a blast in the Nile Delta's Beheira on Monday.

However, members of the low-ranking policemen refuted such speculations.

“This is our ministry, this is our home. What affects the ministry as a whole affects us,” the General Secretary of the Lower-ranking Policemen Club, Ahmed Mostafa, told Ahram Online.

Ahead of the sit in by the Sharqiya policemen on Sunday, the national Lower-ranking Policemen Club did not respond to the calls for protest by their Sharqiya colleagues.

“We are against such strikes because it leads to public anger. Protests have a negative impact on the public and the state. That’s why we always prefer to resolve our issues through talks with our interior ministry leaders,” Mostafa said.

Mostafa believes that a ‘bridge of trust’ should be built in order for the interior ministry to go forward especially in the country’s critical state.

Abdel-Shafy believes that the current interior minister, Magdy Abdel-Ghaffar, is trying to use lower-ranking policemen as a security “stick” tactic similar to the one used to sustain order during Mubarak’s era.

“It’s like they don’t want the country to be stable,” Abdel Shafy said.

The national lower-ranking policemen club interfered to solve the conflict on Sunday, which Mostafa believes escalated due to the CSF’s use of force in a dispersal attempt of protesters.

Some experts believe that the Sharqiya protests should serve as an ‘alarm’ for the government.

Ahmed Kamel El-Beheiry, head of the Regional Center for Strategic Studies (RCSS), believes that the recent protests by policemen were actually a “show of power.”

El-Beheiry, like many, has frequently called and delivered interior ministry "reform" plans to officials.

“The interior ministry has become a hostage of this group [lower ranking policemen]. The ministry went along with their acts,” El-Beheiry told Ahram Online.

El-Beheiry says that lower-ranking policemen are the ones ‘moving things' now.

“The ministry didn’t apply the protest law [against the lower-ranking officers]. This clearly shows a double standard and that some people are actually above the law. The country is in dire need of the reform of the interior ministry especially with the presence of corruption in such a faction,” El-Beheiry said.

Although the Sharqiya sit-in resulted in the closure of the Sharqiya security directorate for two days, neither the Protest Law nor the Terrorism law was applied.

The Protest Law, which was issued in November 2013, stipulates that an application for a protest permit must be submitted to the interior ministry three days before holding a demonstration.
Violations of the law can lead to sentences of imprisonment between one and seven years, and/or fines between LE50,000 to LE300,000.

The recently-enacted Terrorism Law lays down an array of terror crimes which are punishable by lengthy prison terms, including the use of force, threatening or terrorising individuals, "disturbing public order," and "undermining national unity, social peace, and national security." The law also criminalises attacks on state or public property or obstructing authorities.

The assistant interior minister for public relations and media, Major General Abu-Bakr Abdel-Karim, justified on Monday the failure of the ministry to take legal action against the lower-ranking policemen by saying that they were not conducting a "protest" but rather a “protest rally”, which did not involve violence or rioting.

Vilified by the media? 

Lower-ranking policemen believe that the media is trying to defame their image in front of the public.

In several appearances since the sit-in started, TV presenter Ahmed Moussa, known for his staunch support for Egyptian police, published images of lower-policemen spokesperson Mansour Abu Gabal with the late leading Muslim Brotherhood figure Farid Ismail, claiming that the outlawed-Brotherhood was behind the protests.

Mostafa told Ahram Online that a picture of Abu Gabal with Ismail was in a meeting with Sharqiya’s chief of police inside of the governorate’s police stations.

“My life is in danger. I’ve been receiving death threats and calls telling me to stop what I’m doing immediately,” Abu Gabal told Ahram Online.

On Monday night, Moussa said that salaries for lower-ranking police officers range from 5000 EGP ($510 USD) to 7000 pounds ($894).

Moussa’s “exclusive” revelation on the policemen’s salaries triggered controversy and anger among his audience.

Angry statements, expressed by people working in other professions, went viral on social media.

Some Facebook users criticised the lower-policemen for making economic demands, saying that they “receive better salaries than doctors and engineers.”

“Ahmed Moussa is defaming us on purpose. He’s trying to sow dissent in the society, so people in the streets would hate us,” Mostafa told Ahram Online.

Mostafa added that the salaries Moussa claimed the lower-policemen were actually earning were incorrect.

“I have been in the police force for twenty-six years and only earned 3100 EGP ($396 USD). If the numbers Moussa showed on air were actually correct, we’d call for shooting anyone among us who asked for more money,” Mostafa said.

According to Mostafa, the media has always portrayed lower policemen “negatively.”

"We are always vilified in movies and represented as thugs who accept bribes. They forgot that we have children who may be affected by such a reputation," Mostafa says.

The 2007 film "This is Chaos" or Heya Fawda in Arabic, depicted Hatem, a corrupted lower-policeman, who ruled the neighbourhood of Shoubra with an iron fist. Hatem was a lower policeman who collected bribes and was feared and despised by every citizen in the neighbourhood. He tortured prisoners and was immune from punishment. 

In March 2014, two lower-ranking policemen in Alexandria were sentenced to ten years in prison for the 2010 killing of Khaled Said, a young man whose death resulting from torture fomented the January 2011 uprising that ousted then president Hosni Mubarak. 

Earlier in August 2015, the interior minister Magdy Abdel-Ghafar ordered an investigation into an incident of a lower-ranking policeman who was seen on video beating a citizen in a Cairo metro station.

Several media reports have referred to next month as “Unpredictable September,” envisioning it as a test for the Egyptian government, as the month will witness both the nationwide lower-ranking policemen meeting on 5 September and a widespread demonstration against the recently-enacted civil service law, to be staged by tax authorities employees and several syndicates on 12 September.
 

 

 

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