News / Middle East

Amid Hype Over Constitution, Egypt's Police Brace for Worst

FILE - Riot police take their positions outside a police academy, where ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi's second trial session was due to take place outside Cairo on January 8, 2014.
FILE - Riot police take their positions outside a police academy, where ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi's second trial session was due to take place outside Cairo on January 8, 2014.
As Egyptians vote in a constitutional referendum meant to help bring stability, policemen such as Brigadier-General Sayed Emara have good reason to dig in for more bloodshed.

He lost colleagues and friends last month, when a suicide bomber in a car ripped open a five-story building where security officials in the Nile Delta city of Mansoura worked. Seventeen people, most of them police, were killed.

A radical Sinai-based group called Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, which derides the Brotherhood for its lack of militancy, has taken responsibility for Mansoura bombings

The next day, the government declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group, encouraging policemen, who are frequently targeted, to harden their positions against the movement which says the army and security forces robbed it of power.

"It's not a war out in the open, that you can fight straight on, no, it comes after you in your house when you are with your family, or in your car or while you are walking on the street or working in your office,'' Emara told Reuters.

While much of the world's attention has focused on a security crackdown on Islamists in the struggle between the Brotherhood and the army-backed government, killing and detaining thousands, Egypt's police have also paid a high price.

At least 250 of them have been killed in militant attacks since army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi deposed the democratically-elected Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, in July - provoking a public reaction almost inconceivable just three years ago.

In the 1990s, another period when Islamist militants were attacking security forces, Egyptians would have had little sympathy for the police, often accused of corruption and brutality.

Security forces and police were put on the defensive after the popular uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011. Many simply took off their uniforms and vanished.

Now they and Interior Ministry officials have maneuvered their way back to power and are now lionized by the public. Fallen policemen are treated like heroes. Their posters hang in towns and villages.

The new charter strips out Islamist language and strengthens the state institutions that defied Morsi: the military, the police and the judiciary.

A big turnout and overwhelming "yes'' vote would bolster the status of the police by making clear Egyptians are in favor of the new political order they are part of.

Conspiracy narrative

But the sense of siege officers feel in Mansoura and elsewhere shows no sign of easing and the adulation does not help ease the nerves of policemen or boost their poor social or economic standing.

Islamist militants from the Sinai Peninsula have stepped up attacks against police and soldiers. The violence has spread to cities, including Cairo, where the interior minister survived an assassination attempt.

Yet the average policeman earns about 1,800 Egyptian pounds ($258) - a low salary compared to others who serve the state. After Mubarak's downfall, policemen went on strike to demand better pay.

The Mansoura blast, one of the biggest attacks since Morsi's fall, rattled the typically gritty Nile Delta city of 500,000 and left policemen feeling more vulnerable.

"I didn't see the car approach the entrance of our building. All I heard was the huge explosion,'' said Ahmed Mathar, a recent graduate of the four-year programme at Cairo's Police Academy, who suffered wounds from flying shards of glass.

Mansoura's police now work in a building borrowed from a state-owned fertiliser company, their offices wrecked. They often discuss ways of confronting Islamist militancy as plain-clothes security with pistols tucked into their belts hover around.

Emara, a slick 30-year veteran of the Interior Ministry who was wearing a charcoal grey suit, barks orders down the phone.

While the country focuses on the referendum, Emara tuned in to a television program on the Palestinian militant group Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood which controls the neighbouring Gaza Strip.

Like many Egyptian security officials, he is convinced Hamas is funding and providing weapons to al-Qaida-inspired militants in the Sinai which plot against the state. Hamas denies the allegations. The Brotherhood says it is a peaceful movement.

Even though Egypt has crushed the Brotherhood, killing hundreds of supporters and arresting its leaders, the group is still portrayed as highly dangerous.

It is a narrative that has had a major impact on the psyche on policemen in Mansoura and other parts of Egypt, encouraging them to harden their positions.

"We are working against a terrorist organization that has many friends outside who want to destroy Egypt,'' said Emara, 52. "People must understand that the crimes of terrorism necessitate a severe response.''

Hardline approaches are likely to invite more violence from Islamist militants, and more death in the police force.

The village of Bedawi, not far from Mansoura, is well aware of that reality. One of its sons, 33-year-old policeman Amr Hassan el-Tehan, was killed during the Mansoura bombing as he monitored communications equipment on the late shift.

"The Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas. Al-Qaida. Why are they like this?'' asked his older brother Attiya.

You May Like

US, China Have Dueling Definitions of Cybersecurity

Analysts say attribution or or proving that a particular individual or government is responsible for a hack, is a daunting task More

Snowden: I'd Go to Prison to Return to US

Former NSA contractor says he has not received a formal plea-deal offer from US officials, who consider him to be a traitor More

Goodbye Pocahontas: Photos Reveal Today's Real Native Americans

Weary of stereotypes, photographer Matika Wilbur is determined to reshape the public's perception of her people More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Godwin from: Nigeria
January 14, 2014 1:44 PM
The power of security is intelligence. Without intelligence operatives, the trouble will continue and even overwhelm both the army and police. It is appalling to listen to state security services sound like this, what does the police expect the ordinary people on the streets to do? Raise their hands up in surrender to terrorists? No! That man shouldn't sound so dismally pessimistic or diffident, unless he wants the state of Egypt to be declared a Muslim Brotherhood state now being ruled by minority public. That is more than apartheid. The security operatives should stand up to their responsibility and rid the state of Egypt of these terrorists. They are equally Egyptians, though some of them may come from Turkey, Iran, Qatar, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Gaza, and they will be easily identifiable. But if not so, the police should not tell us that the security demands of Egypt is greater than they can cope with/handle - unless they will appeal for help from outside - maybe AU, UN or (least of all) Arab League peacekeeping police

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs