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Egypt's interior ministry says Sharqiya police action was a ‘protest rally’ not a 'protest'

A spokesperson for the ministry says the low-ranking officers did not use violence

Ahram Online , Tuesday 25 Aug 2015
Sharqiya
An injured policeman being wheeled from the scene of clashes between Egyptian CSF soldiers and lower-ranking police members on strike in Sharqiya on Sunday 23 August. (Photo: Al-Ahram)
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The assistant interior minister for public relations and media, Major General Abu-Bakr Abdel-Karim, said Monday that the two-day sit-in held by lower-ranking police officers in front of Sharqiya’s security directorate falls under the category of a “protest rally,” explaining why neither the Protest Law nor the Terrorism Law was applied.
 
The assistant minister also justified the lack of legal action by saying that the “protest rally” did not include violence or rioting.
 
Abdel-Karim added that the interior ministry has "priorities" and that their strategy was to contain the situation by solving the crisis so that security services would not be halted.
 
The comments were made during a phone interview with host Ramy Radwan on Ten satellite TV channel.
 
On Sunday, Central Security Forces (CSF) fired tear gas at the striking low-ranking officers in order to disperse their sit-in at Sharqiya's security directorate, which prompted the strikers to fire warning shots in the air thus forcing the CSF conscripts to flee the scene.
 
The clashes reportedly resulted in four injuries on both sides.
 
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.
 
Article 4 of the law defines a protest as "a gathering of at least ten persons in a public place, or moving in roads and squares, with the aim of peacefully expressing their political opinions, demands, or objections."
 
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, including the use of force, threatening or terrorising individuals, "disturbing public order," and "undermining national unity, social peace and national security." It also includes targeting state or public property or obstructing authorities.
 
Abdel-Kerim said that assistant interior ministers met with the low-ranking officers late Sunday and promised to look into the officers’ demands, thereby putting an end to the sit-in.
 
"They [the low-ranking officers] expressed their pride in belonging to the police and they stressed that they are committed to the homeland's interests at a time when it faces challenges that require everyone to stand behind their leaders," he added.
 
The officers ended their two-day sit-in after the Sunday meeting.
 
A provincial security official said that an agreement has been reached with the protesters to "leave and call off the sit-in and present their demands to the interior minister for a decision by 5 September."
 
The officers said they will hold a general meeting for all their associations, clubs, and societies on 5 September to discuss the outcome of the agreement with the ministry and decide on any future course of action.
 
The Interior Ministry's PR and media head said the ministry is working so that such events do not happen again, as they affect the status of the police and the citizens' trust in security personnel.
 
"We are working on building trust in the police and communication with the citizens," said Abdel-Kerim.
 
In April, the Supreme Administrative Court ruled that civil servants conducting sit-ins could be punished for disrupting the ability of public institutions to provide services to citizens. The court said strikes at places where they are prohibited must be considered a "criminal act.” The same month, the court ruled that four employees of the State Council, a judicial body, should be fired for striking.
 
This is not the first time that low-ranking policemen have protested with job-related demands.
 
Since the 2011 uprising, policemen have protested deteriorating working conditions, low salaries, and a lack of safety on several occasions.
 
In February 2014, only weeks after the passage of the Protest Law, low-ranking policemen protested in Alexandria and Kafr El-Sheikh to demand higher wages and better working conditions.
 
In Februrary 2015, tens of low-ranking police officers in Minya went on strike to protest the killing of three of their colleagues during a mission, demanding that they be provided arms and security so that they can face armed groups.
 
Other civil servant factions have also protested without permits this month.
 
Thousands of tax authorities employees staged a protest on 10 August to condemn the recently-enacted Civil Service Law and are planning for a widespread demonstration against the law on 12 September.
 
Around ten syndicates announced that they will join the demonstration, including the doctors, the public transport, the teachers’ and the ambulance workers’ syndicates.
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