Egypt's revolution and police: Slippery slope towards mutual hatred

Abdallah El-Sennawi
Tuesday 26 Jan 2016

One cannot deny truths when the facts are so obvious for everyone. There are those promoting hatred for the revolution as if it were an illegitimate act involving conspiracy against security forces and an undermining of their foundations. Others believe that maligning the revolution would further cement and stabilise the state.

This is a grave mistake that will alienate security agencies from society instead of having society’s full support in the fierce battle against terrorism. On the fifth anniversary of the January 2011 revolution, an atmosphere of panic is palpable, with a fear of mass demonstrations that could possibly upset the balance of power and authority.

This fear is baseless. Politically active youth are not mobilising for protests on this day, and the Muslim Brotherhood is in no condition to mobilise, nor are the segments of society who are enduring some of the current policies about to declare rebellion out of fear of treading into the unknown.

This exaggerated alarm has manifested in widespread raids on homes downtown without any good cause, and arrests of political activists under the pretext of inciting protests or “intention to protest.” There is no such crime by law. Demonstrations are an indisputable constitutional right, not a crime punishable by law.

Laws are meant to regulate rights, not inhibit them. Taking people to task for their intentions indicates insecurity about the people’s support of the state. Those who have confidence in their people do not resort to arbitrary measures to abort an unsubstantiated "conspiracy."

In the first weeks after the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood from power, gunshots were heard on the street and over bridges. Weapons were carried in demonstrations and the flags of Al-Qaeda were raised in Ramses Square and elsewhere.

These confrontations were undoubtedly settled [by security forces] because of mass support by the people, who refused to allow the country to slip into civil war.

Today, it is a completely different picture. Popular support is greatly eroded, and mutual hatred between the people and security forces has crossed the red line. Exaggerating panic sent a message of instability to the world and negatively impacted the economy and the possibility of new investments. It also added more fuel to the raging fire of hate.

Some carelessly say 25 January should only mark Police Day, suggesting the police were the target of a conspiracy to destroy it by inciting hatred against it.

Not a single patriot doubts the courage and honour of police officers and soldiers in Ismailiya, who on 25 January 1952 stood with few weapons in the face of colonial soldiers. 

However, denigrating the January revolution is an insult to every moral and value this country stands for. Moreover, denigrating January allows for the repetition of the same mistakes that led to the revolution.

The consequences of a folly of this kind could be disastrous. 

Even worse, it opens the biggest avenue for violent and terrorist groups to strike at security forces. It is no coincidence that more than 15 officers and soldiers were killed in two simultaneous operations in El-Arish and Giza.

The details of the two operations reveal that the war is still long and gruelling, and that the martyrs and other victims in the ranks of the police will pay in more blood to defend their country.

Provoking ordinary people with practices that violate human dignity is ammunition for the guns of terrorists. When security forces abandon their normal duties – which any sane person cannot contest are vital for any society – anarchy could rule over society.

Even if those accused of torture are investigated, the real dilemma remains in the security culture that fosters these horrifying crimes.

This is a dangerous situation that undercuts security forces before anyone else. What is disconcerting is that "all things political" have retreated while "all things security" have crossed its boundaries.

One of the worst excuses given for the large number of searches of downtown apartments is that it is a precautionary measure for the visit by the Chinese president. The words themselves give a negative message of an inability to protect visiting dignitaries without measures that at a minimum can be described as arbitrary, unplanned, lacking information and inappropriate.

Any excessive measures undermine confidence in security forces; any inflation of roles undermines the authority of the state. These measures were not taken during a previous visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin, even though he stayed at a hotel in Garden City near downtown.

The immediate explanation [for these measures] could be that the broad, random searches served another purpose; to scare the public into refraining from taking to the streets on the anniversary of the revolution.

The most critical question here: what could these police actions lead to? 

The worst answer to this question: Nothing except deepening hatred towards security forces.

The second explanation [for this police behaviour] could be that [these measures] aim to prevent any reform of security institutions.

In other words, [these measures] aim at "terrorising" the president. 

This is a game that was tried in past eras to impose specific perceptions on presidents in order to guarantee that security agencies would continue operating without accountability.

In the absence of an [independent] political life, security agencies step in to fill the void: interference in parliament elections by nominating, supporting and promoting specific candidates, albeit without tampering with ballot boxes.

The absence of tampering with ballot boxes is very positive and a fundamental outcome of the January revolution which we can never reverse without dire consequences. 

However, [security interference in elections] has extremely dangerous conotations, for it shows us that the police state is once again rearing its head. 

These measures are counterproductive to the security forces themselves.

If anyone has learned the lesson of the revolution, then they know going back to pre-revolution days is almost impossible. When preludes are the same, then outcomes will also be similar.

Soon after the revolution, police officers said “we learned the lesson”, but it did not take too long for security agencies to regain much of their strength with undeniable support from the people.

When they came back to the streets, ordinary citizens greeted them with applause. It was a scene proving that historic reconciliation between security forces and society was possible, to erase the bitterness of the past. But this soon dissipated.

There is a perception within security agencies that taking revenge on the revolution would restore the sense of awe and prestige for the police, not realising that the opposite is true.

Prestige and awe do not stem from the exercise of power. Prestige and awe are earned through gaining the respect of the people, and respect is not fear. Power simply means applying the excesses of state authority against ordinary citizens or political activists outside the law, the constitution, and human values. Excesses are another blemish in Egypt’s human rights record which is already full of abuses and violations.

The strength of the state depends on its constitutional legitimacy without proclamations or fabrications.

The issue is not what could happen on the January anniversary – there will be nothing dramatic that requires all this alarm. The issue is what is beyond January. The state cannot be stable with arbitrary excesses or reach for the future amid all this hatred.

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