The Egyptian police’s surprising stance ahead of the protests planned by the opposition on June 30 is as worrying as the stand adopted by the army.
While the Brotherhood, from which President Mohammad Mursi hails, has done its best to block the army’s potential interference in the looming crisis, the Islamist group seems taken unawares by police’s position.
In recent weeks, the Brotherhood has sought to engage the U.S. in Egypt’s deepening dispute. Some Brotherhood teams have gone to Washington to explain the group’s view and whitewash its image.
Anne Patterson, U.S. ambassador to Egypt, stirred a lot of controversy last week when she stopped short of showing appreciation of a grassroots petition campaign collecting signatures to withdraw confidence from Mursi. Patterson instead voiced full U.S. support for Mursi, being a democratically elected president, and vehemently rejected calls forthe military to return to power.
The military point of view
The army has somewhat stayed silent. However, a military source was quoted in the local press as saying that the army does not accept foreign meddling in its affairs on the pretext of democracy. “The Armed Forces’ decision to defend the nation’s resources and Egyptian people’s aspirations emanates from principles of its patriotic mission,” said the source. “They [the army] abide by rules of legitimacy unless they contradict the people’s will.”
Police have an unprecedented chance at hand to regain public trust after years of mistrust and estrangementAbdullah Kamal
This veiled statement has further raised the Brotherhood’s unease at a time when the group is increasingly worried about the police’s intentions.
Hours before thousands of followers of militant Islamist groups, estimated by the Brotherhood propaganda machine at 2 million demonstrators, finished their pro-Mursi rally in eastern Cairo, thousands of Mursi’s opponents gathered outside the Defense Ministry in another area in Cairo, chanting: “Police, the people and police are one hand.”
As one militant Islamist leader threatened during the pro-Mursi gathering to “pulverize” opponents on June 30, a police officer at the Defense Ministry rally announced his support for the campaign against the president. An hour later, scores of police officers were carried on shoulders in admiration by anti-Mursi protesters.
More than two years ago, police stations were simultaneously attacked across Egypt, as a result the security institutions collapsed. At the time, protesters against the regime of the then president Hosni Mubarak took to the streets, chanting: “The army and the people are on hand.”
The challenge facing the Brotherhood’s rule at present is that police are tasked with confronting protesters. However, the interior minister, who is in charge of police, has announced that security forces will not crack down on peaceful protesters and will not take sides in the country’s festering political dispute.
He has repeatedly said that security forces will not guard offices of any political party. The understood message is that offices of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, which may be the target of protests, will have to defend themselves. As a result, the Brotherhood has fortified its headquarters in the area of al-Moqattam on the outskirts of Cairo. One foreign correspondent commented: “It seems as though the Brotherhood is facing an imminent war.”
This is not all. Days ago, a number of police officers signed the petitions distributed by the popular protest group Tamarod, calling for Mursi’s resignation and early presidential elections. A recent meeting of the Police Club, a security union, saw sharp objections to police’s involvement in any showdown with protesters. At the same meeting, held in Cairo, police officers chanted unprecedented slogans against Mursi and the spiritual leader of the Brotherhood.
In the past, defiant statements by the interior minister could cost him his post. But the problem facing the Brotherhood in the increasingly complicated situation is not with the minister himself, it is with the whole police force and even their families.
This defiant stance by police has aborted a plan conceived by the Brotherhood to use police in enforcing a curfew without reliance on the army. The possibility of a confrontation between police and the Brotherhood backers is not unlikely, in view of recent incidents in some Egyptian provinces where security forces did not side with the group’s followers who were engaged in clashes with opponents. During those incidents, the Brotherhood followers clashed with police.
As the June 30 protests loom, the gap is widening between the Brotherhood and the police. The Brotherhood was the target of constant security crackdowns in the Mubarak era. In the past two years, the Brotherhood has spearheaded calls against security agencies. Some leaders in the group have even threatened to set up an alternative police force. A large number of officers in the once-hated State Security Investigation Department have also been sacked. Nonetheless, these sackings have not made the police willing to succumb to the Brotherhood’s wishes. Therefore, the public were not surprised when the interior minister, appointed by Mursi, announced that police will not defend the Brotherhood offices.
The Brotherhood-police gap is basically due to an identity crisis underlined by security agencies’ reluctance to fulfill the objectives of the group that they had long fought. As the Brotherhood harbors ill feelings against security agencies, many police personnel blame the long-outlawed group for police’s collapse at the peak of the anti-Mubarak revolt in the wake of a series of arson against police stations and attacks on prison.
The Brotherhood has no other way to rein in police than putting maverick officers on trial—in case the group and Mursi stay in power. On the other hand, police have an unprecedented chance at hand to regain public trust after years of mistrust and estrangement.
Abdullah Kamal – Egyptian journalist and political analyst, an adviser to Al Rai Kuwaiti newspaper in Cairo, working now on writing a book about the end of Mubarak era under the title of The Penultimate Pharaoh. The writer had been editor- in- chief of both Rose El-Youssef magazine and newspaper (2005 – 2011) and a member of Shoura Council (2007 – 2011
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