Mutiny in the Egyptian police: Pent-up anger and the protest law
The disgruntlement of low-ranked assistant policemen is not new, but showing it is
The division of the Egyptian police commonly called “lower-ranking policemen” has always been as source of controversy.
While regular policemen graduate from the Police Academy, lower-ranking ones study at the Institute of Assistant Policemen, and can only be promoted to lieutenant – the rank regular policemen obtain when they graduate – after 24 years of service.
Assistant policemen help policemen in several duties – such as organizing traffic, guarding facilities and handling complaints at police stations – and sometimes work as informants.
The disgruntlement of assistant policemen is not new, but showing it is. Hundreds of assistant policemen in the Nile Delta province of Sharqiya, the third most populous governorate in Egypt, recently held protests against low salaries and deteriorating working conditions.
They demanded the ouster of the interior minister, and started a strike that saw the closure of several police stations. Though not the first of its kind, this protest has become the most alarming, not only because it shed light on disputes inside the Interior Ministry, but also since it called into question the state’s commitment to the much-debated Protest Law.
Journalist Maged Atef attributed the recent protests to the years-long accumulation of bad feelings on the part of assistant policemen, who “realized that people look down on them and only respect regular policemen. They felt this was unfair since they believed that they do all the work in the streets and get no credit.” Assistant policemen, Atef added, also came to be associated with corruption and bribery, which made them even more marginalized.
Writer Hamdi Rizq described them as “time bombs at the heart of the Interior Ministry,” since their position below regular policemen makes them constantly angry. Rizq added that being an indispensible part of the police force, assistant policemen are able to twist the ministry’s arm with impunity. “This is a real challenge for the ministry, especially at a time when it is fighting terrorism.”
Former MP Moustafa al-Naggar said the recent protests are more foreboding than they seem, citing violent clashes between protesters and riot police upon the former’s storming of the security directorate headquarters. “Confrontation between two armed factions in the state apparatus is extremely alarming, especially if the protesting party feels inferior and discriminated against.”
Following the protests, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) demanded the release of all activists sentenced to jail for violating the Protest Law.
“Through applying the law to hundreds of pro-democracy activists and not applying it to members of the police force, the state is exhibiting a clear case of double standards,” said an ANHR statement.
“We are against the Protest Law, but if it is there anyway then it better be applied to everyone or be annulled altogether. Otherwise, let’s just simply declare Egypt a police state.”
Journalist Abdel Rahman Badr noted how assistant policemen protests were treated differently. “They did not have prior permission as required by the Protest Law, yet the protest was not dispersed by force, and none of the protestors were arrested. On the contrary, the Ministry of Interior listened to their demands,” he wrote. “All this despite the fact that protesting policemen did get violent when they stormed the headquarters of the Sharqiya Security Directorate.”
Criminal sciences and crime scene expert General Refaat Abdel Hamid was of the same view: “So storming the directorate and closing police stations do not constitute a threat to security and an obstruction of vital services?”
Major General Abu Bakr Abdel Karim, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, responded by saying assistant policemen organized a “rally,” not a “protest,” so the articles of the Protest Law do not apply to them.
“They did not use violence, and they peacefully ended the sit-in after the ministry promised to look into their demands,” he said.
“The ministry also has priorities, and containing the situation so that security services can resume was a must. The protestors also prioritized national interests when they agreed to go back to work.”
Abdel Karim had earlier slammed the protest and called its organizers “a conspiring minority” that “is violating the working regulations of the Interior Ministry and police discipline.”
In response to a question about whether the protests were instigated by the Muslim Brotherhood, he said: “I don’t find this unlikely at all.”
Following Abdel Karim’s statement, journalist Mohamed al-Desouki Rushdi published an article in which he included the definition of a “protest” under the Protest Law. Rushdi said according to Article 4 of the law, a protest is “any gathering of more than 10 people, whether marching or stationary, that aims at expressing grievances or political demands.” Article 7, he adds, says it is illegal for a protest to disrupt public order or impede public services.
“For 48 hours, assistant policemen closed the headquarters of the security directorate and several police stations, left their positions, and stopped organizing traffic,” he wrote. “Playing around terminology will only make things worse. The Interior Ministry better admit the gravity of the situation.”