More than a year after Hosni Mubarak stepped down, Egypt is facing a serious security vacuum that has continued to cripple Egypt’s path to recovery.
Crime rates in Egypt have soared, as serious crimes that were nearly non-existent in the past have become common, including kidnappings, bank robberies, rape, and arson attacks.
However, the cause for this crisis is a direct result of the way in which the Interior Ministry acted prior to the revolution.
The January 25th Revolution had been planned to coincide with the National Police Day, with protesters demanding the resignation of the feared former Interior Minister, Habib Al-Adly, and reform of the hated interior ministry.
Habib Al-Adly’s tenure as Interior Minister started in 1997 after the November 1997 Luxor Massacre which killed 62 people. In the years leading up to the revolution, police brutality had become very common and widespread in Egypt. Many prisoners claimed Egyptian police used extreme methods of torture, and even had evidence to support their claims; but, the government always denied them, or simply ignored their existence.
Additionally, many were imprisoned after over-night raids based on very little evidence (or due to being members of an opposition group). Protests were also often quashed by brutal force. One unfortunate example took place in 2006 when 2,000 Sudanese Refugees had gathered to protest outside the offices of the UN Refugee Agency in Cairo. Riot police violently broke up the protest, which ended up in the deaths of 27 Sudanese refugees.
The accumulation of many years of police brutality was that the police were feared. Al-Adly had effectively turned Egypt into a police state, where crimes such as kidnappings, bank robberies, and murder were rare. In fact, Egypt had one of the world’s lowest murder rates.
But at what cost? At the cost of the average Egyptian’s dignity.
Today, the consequences of Al-Adly’s actions are much clearer. “No more fear” became a slogan that many Egyptians use when referring to the country’s security apparatus. At the same time, the police are less respected than ever before. The absence of respect – and not fear – is what has made the crucial difference. The lack of respect has led to an exponential increase in crime, but at the same time has lowered the average police man’s morale to an all-time low.
Throughout the past year, many have seemed to forget that an Egyptian police man is simply a man – an Egyptian man. He has a job that allows him to feed his family. Instead, even though Mubarak and his stalwarts are either in prison or have fled abroad, police men are frequently attacked and killed, and police stations are burnt down on a regular basis.
It has reached a point where the police feel that the best solution is to not intervene at all. Whenever they intervene to stop a crime, they are often lambasted as having ‘violated’ democracy. On several occasions, when the police manage to arrest a thug, hundreds would show up outside the police station and demand the thug’s release. They are usually successful, as they tend to either burn down the station, or wreck everything around the police station.
The lack of respect for the police has made Egyptians view them as ‘enemies’. The media’s coverage of the protests after the revolution, and their failure to show ‘both sides of the story’ have continued to isolate the police force.
What is the solution?
Egyptians – all of us – have to turn a new page, and cooperate with the police. We have to come to the realization that the police are here to protect and serve US. They are there for OUR security. The past – the brutality of Al-Adly – will never occur again. We have made that very clear after millions protested on the National Police Day in 2011 against brutality and oppression, and for a better Egypt.
Since the police are there for our security, we have to be willing to provide them with the ability to enact that security. By claiming every arrest is ‘unfair’ or any act of self-defense as ‘unwarranted’ or ‘brutal’ we are telling them to not do their jobs. Egyptians have to understand that if you break the law, you will be punished – democracy isn’t anarchy. At the same time, the police have to be aware of their limits, and that they are not above the law. The police should be accountable to every single Egyptian for their actions.
By restoring mutual respect between the police and the people, then Egypt can finally return security to its streets – a crucial aspect for Egypt during this transitional period.
As J. Edgar Hoover stated:
“Justice is incidental to law and order.”