Disaffected police plan protests against Egypt's interior ministry

Ahram Online , Thursday 7 Mar 2013

Police officers across country plan protests, strikes against Egyptian Interior Ministry to demand – among other things – dismissal of Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim

Egyptian police
Egyptian police stand guard during clashes with protesters (Photo: AP)

Egyptian State Security (Amn Al-Dowla) officers on Thursday declared their refusal to protect President Mohamed Morsi's personal residence in the Nile Delta city of Zagazig, the president's hometown.

The officers demanded that they be armed so that they would be able to defend themselves while on duty and protect themselves from attacks by armed thugs. They also threatened to launch a strike throughout the city of Zagazig on Friday.

In Cairo, about 15 officers in the Kasr El-Nil Police Station began a sit-in, preventing members of the public from entering the station. In the city of Tanta, dozens of police officers held a similar action to protest what they described as the 'Brotherhoodisation' of the interior ministry.

In North Sinai and the Upper Egyptian city of Luxor, meanwhile, several police officers announced that they would stop working and demanded the dismissal of Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim.

On Tuesday, striking officers refused to deploy in the restive canal city of Port Said, stating their refusal to be "brought into conflict with the people."

On Wednesday, 8000 police officers and recruits in 34 Central Security Forces (CSF) camps in the Sinai Peninsula and along the Suez Canal joined strike calls against what they described as "inhumane and degrading working conditions."

Similar strikes have been called in other Egyptian governorates, including the Nile Delta city of Mansoura, where officers called for the dismissal of Ibrahim, who they accuse of using police to "settle scores" with the people.

On Thursday, the interior ministry stressed that Egyptian police were "doing their best and making substantial sacrifices under the difficult circumstances the country is going through."

The ministry went on to stress that it treated all political forces "equally" and was not partial to any particular faction.

The ministry added: "All government facilities are the property of the people…the personnel deployed [around these facilities] are protecting them from attacks by youths and elements who have exploited recent events to achieve their own ends."

The ministry also said that police officers had exercised the "utmost restraint" during recent clashes with protesters, stressing that police represented part of the "national fabric" and didn't want to clash with "their people."

The statement also said that Egyptian law allowed court verdicts to be appealed, stressing, therefore, that court rulings should not be met with acts of violence that threaten peoples' lives and "hinder economic development and living conditions."

The ministry also urged all factions of Egyptian society to express themselves peacefully and avoid clashing with security forces.

The statement came ahead of the second phase of the ongoing trial of those accused of complicity in the February 2012 Port Said stadium disaster, scheduled for 9 March, in which 52 remaining defendants – out of a total of 73 – will be sentenced. Twenty-one defendants were slapped with death sentences in the first set of verdicts on 26 January, which led to widespread riots and clashes in the canal city.

Mahmoud Kutry, former police officer and security expert, says the police protests are a sign of the interior ministry's "collapse."

"Since the revolution began [in early 2011], the police force has been collapsing, and neither the Supreme Military Council nor President Morsi have paid any attention," Kutry asserted.

Egypt's revolution erupted on 25 January, 'National Police Day,' to protest rampant police brutality, which had been a hallmark of the Mubarak regime.

Following the revolution, then-minister Habib El-Adly, who had headed the ministry for the last 14 years of the Mubarak era, was arrested and found guilty of failing to stop the killing of unarmed anti-regime protesters. Since then, six different interior ministers have been appointed in rapid succession, with most having been swiftly removed.

Except for El-Adly, most police officers were acquitted of charges of killing hundreds of peaceful protesters shot by police during the revolution. Since the 18-day uprising, police forces have repeatedly clashed with protesters, resulting in the injury and death of many civilians and aggravating hostility between police and public.

President Morsi appointed the last interior minister, Mohamed Ibrahim, in January.

"Ibrahim was appointed on purpose in order to Brotherhoodise the interior ministry," Kutry said.

The relationship between the police force and Egypt's Islamist current, meanwhile, has always been tense. Islamists suffered considerably from police brutality during the Mubarak era. Most of them had been barred from enrolling in the police academy or taking any position in the police force.

"If they found out that any officer was even remotely Islamist – or even related to an Islamist – they would prepare a classified report against him and then immediately remove him," El-Kutry explained. "They even filed a report against me because I apparently 'prayed too much,' even though I consider myself a liberal.”

This contentious history has made it difficult for the Brotherhood to take over the interior ministry, as they have certain other state institutions.

"They had no leaders to put in key positions in the ministry, so they began doing it from the base, flooding the police academy with those of a Brotherhood background," said Kutry. "This has earned them the wrath of many in the police force."

This is not, however, the only reason why sections of Egypt's police force are furious with Morsi. Recent clashes with civilians have also left many in the police force frustrated with the current situation.

"No leader in the police force can give an order to fire unless he first gets an order from the president," explained Kutry, "so many in the police force are angry that the ministry is putting them in a direct faceoff with the people."

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