Thursday, March 24, 2011

Police Protests in Cairo and Ministry of Interior on Fire, again

Photo by Diaa Hadid, printed in the Huffington Post. 
Fire at the Ministry of the Interior

The Ministry of the Interior building was on fire again on Tuesday (March 22).  One article speculated that the fire was started either by the police protesters rallying outside the building or people on the inside who perhaps wanted to destroy evidence of police misconduct or corruption.   Here is a link to an article about this story:

But one source yesterday said that the Ministry's report to the Cabinet, which the Cabinet seems to have adopted as fact, said the fire was caused by electrical problems.  Here's an article on this:

Since Mubarak resigned, there have been periodic reports about former ministers being investigated on charges of corruption and having travel bans imposed against them so they could not leave the country.  The latest development, Tuesday, was that criminal charges had been brought by Egypt's public prosecutor against the former Information Minister and the former Finance Minister regarding misuse of public funds for using $6 million in state funds to fund election campaigns between 1981-2010.  

On March 8, 47 police officers were arrested based on allegations that they had destroyed documents of police misconduct.  Here is a link to an article about this:  There was also a fire on March 2 at the Central Auditing office which would be one location where documents on officials' corruption would be found.  
This latest fire started on the middle floors of Ministry of the Interior, a 6 story building.  Reports were that protesters were prevented from entering the building so would seem unlikely that a fire started several floors up because of the protesters.  

Police Protests and Strikes
The police protesting were demanding higher wages (i.e., $200 per month which would be a significant increase)  and health care benefits.   There have been numerous police protests here since Mubarak resigned, sometimes for high wages, sometimes to say sorry to Egyptians for the conduct of shooting tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters during the revolution, and sometimes to demand information about what happened to the hundreds of their colleagues who were missing after the revolution and couldn't be reached by cell phone by their families.  Here's a photo of one police officer I talked to at an earlier protest who told me right after the revolution there were as many as 2,000 missing police officers who were no longer reporting to work and whose whereabouts were unknown.  
There was a strike of 500 Cairo Airport police earlier this month for higher wages.  Here is a link to an article about that:
On the topic of strikes, yesterday's Egyptian Gazette Reuters’ article entitled “Egyptian Cabinet Approves Law on Strikes” discusses how the Cabinet  proposed a law to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces that would criminalize strikes imposing prison sentences and/or  fines as high as 500,000 Egyptian pounds ($84,060)  as penalties  for strikers and those inciting strikes.  The military adopted this new law.  They get the power to adopt this law because of the emergency law, which the military had promised to lift when they took power in mid-February (without specifying when that lifting would occur).   Here's the link to this article if you'd like to read more:

Discussion of the role of the police

The role of the police in Egypt has been extremely controversial for many reasons.  During the revolution, I heard that 16 police stations were burned on one particular day at approximately the same time, implying it was part of an organized plan.

Many members of the public dislike the police because of the regularity with which detainees are beaten and tortured, sometimes resulting in death as in the case of Khaled Said which sparked the revolution.  Here's a link about his story:

One human rights attorney described the role of the police in an interview I did with him when the revolution was happening.  I posted this interview in February, but if you didn't see it then, here it is again:  

This video is available at this link:

For a month after the revolution, there were three or four tanks guarding the police station in our neighborhood, about 3 blocks from our flat.  One night we heard gunshots, which I later heard was an attack on the police station; the tanks appeared after that.  

The tanks left about a week ago, when it was announced that the security forces were being dissolved.

A strange and interesting thing happened around the same time the tanks disappeared.  I was walking home from the metro after my night class, around 9pm, and I saw about 10-15 men of varying ages standing in the road near the police station holding large, beautiful floral arrangements.  They all had the protester necklaces around their necks.  I asked them what they were doing and one of them who spoke English said they were going to present the police with the flowers.  One of them handed me the single carnation in the photo below.

They presented the flowers to the police and there was about a half hour of talking as we all sat and stood in a half circle around the desk of the captain or other high-ranking officer whose office we were in.  I couldn't understand that conversation since it was in Arabic, but the tone was respectful and sometimes friendly with people laughing.  After a while the head officer said something asking about who I was.  I heard him say something about Ingleezi, meaning English, then people looked my way and one of the protesters came to ask me who I was and what I was doing there.  I explained that I was a student and I lived in the area and that one of their group had invited me to come in with them when they were presenting the flowers, so I did.  The group then resumed talking with the police and the meeting soon ended on a cordial, friendly note.  

We left and the protesters shook hands with various officers who lined the hallway when we were leaving.  The protesters presented carnations like the one they'd given me to various officers in the hallway.  

It was a very kind event and I think everyone involved appreciated it.  I was still amazed at the whole situation.  I talked to some of the protesters more outside about what they hoped would come of this meeting.  One of the protesters explained that before this, the public didn't even enter police stations; they're generally seen as off limits.  But they wanted lines of communication between the police and the public to be more open.  They also said they wanted to thank the police for helping to protect their neighborhood during the revolution, noting that there was little damage in this community compared to some other parts of Cairo.  

I asked one of the younger protesters (--- most were middle-aged men, some professors, some businessmen), about whether there might be some protesters who would not want flowers to be brought to the police station.  He said that all the protesters would approve.  I  asked him about the issue of police torture, a concern that has been raised by protesters, journalists and human rights groups.  He said, "No, no, no... we are all Egyptians."  Then they got into a car, I thanked them for letting me join their event, and they drove away.  

Maybe that was not the right setting for me to have asked that question of the nice man who had included me in their thoughtful, remarkable event.  I do appreciate and marvel at how segments of Egyptian society are taking it upon themselves to heal the divisions that exist.  There is something very poignant about bringing beautiful bouquets of flowers to the police... something that would never happen in the U.S.  But at the same time this kind and altruistic gesture exists alongside the fact that torture is still continuing here.  Here is a link to an article from yesterday's Egyptian Gazette discussing the recent torturing of female protesters:  

On the positive side (and their are many positives, including the wonderful flower-presentation just described), there seems to be greater freedom of the press.  That this article about Amnesty International was printed in the local paper and that I am allowed to write these comments in my blog without repercussions, is certainly a positive thing.

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