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Choosing to protest on police day, coincidence or reminder?

Six decades ago Egyptian police fought and died for Egypt's freedom, today protesters are taking to the streets to voice their anger against the state and demand freedom

Yasmine Fathi , Tuesday 25 Jan 2011
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Police Day is meant to mark the day when the police forces took to the street in Ismailia to fight the British Occupation. Now, nationwide protests will be staged today to protest human rights violations, often committed against the citizens by the police, is it a coincidence?

On 25 January 1952, the police garrison in Ismailia fought bravely with their old rifles ignoring British demands that all Egyptian forces evacuate the Suez Canal Zone and engaged in a suicidal battle with the occupation forces.

The British forces asked two main police stations to evacuate the buildings and surrender, but the then Interior Minister Fouad Serageddin, told the policemen not to surrender. Three British soldiers and 41 Egyptian policemen were killed. Policemen were labelled heroes for their part against the occupation.

The following day crowds took to the streets of Cairo in a protest that ended with the city's landmarks burnt to the ground.

Today at least four protests are organized around Cairo and some have called the decision to hold them on this special day controversial. Some believe that it was a coincidence, while others say that it was tactfully chosen to deliver a message of freedom, equality and respect for human rights.

"The decision may be controversial but I think it was a good choice," says Essam El Erian, the media spokesperson of the Muslim Brotherhood, the country's largest opposition group. "Six decades ago the police did their patriotic duty and fought the British occupation, now we ask them to also fight against a corrupt government that has rigged the elections."

The Wafd Party's secretary general, Mounir Fakhry Abdel Nour, does not think that the day was a good choice.

"I think it was a coincidence, but not a good one because this is the day the police forces should be celebrating their past glory," says Abdel Nour. "And also it is not a good coincidence for the protestors, because it is a day off and perhaps a working day would have been better because they would have managed to get more people to join."

However, Amr Hamzawy, research director at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, says that it was not a coincidence that today was chosen to hold the nationwide protests.

"One of the main purposes of today's demonstrations is to protest the torture and human rights violations which the police in Egypt often participates in," says Hamzawy. "Protesting on this day tells them that their main role is to the protect the nation and ensure the safety of the citizens and not the safety of the regime."

Hamzawy adds that today was also chosen because it falls close to Tunisia’s Jasmine revolution, which triggered riots in Algeria, Yemen and Jordan.

"Now it was Egypt's turn to make their social and economic demands," explains Hamzawy. "They couldn't delay it any longer so it is not just the day but the time in general was right."

Abdel Nour, adds it is ironic that Egypt's Police Day was chosen to protest the violations committed against Egyptian citizens by the police themselves.

"The fact is 57 years ago they fought for freedom and now they are fighting against it," says Abdel Nour.

But Hamzawy insists that there is no irony but rather more of a reminder of what their role really is.

"It is kind of a reminder postcard of the beautiful stand they took in the past to protect the people from the foreign colonizer," says Hamzawy. "They are trying to use past events in a positive way and to tell the police to go back to their true essence which is to protect and not violate the citizens.'

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