Egyptian Police Strike is Latest Challenge to National Security

Andrew McGregor

October 28, 2011

While Egypt’s military not only survived the January 25 Revolution, but succeeded in taking complete control of all government functions, the internal collapse of the nation’s Interior Ministry continues (see Terrorism Monitor, April 7, 2011; Terrorism Monitor Briefs, July 22).  Responsible for Egypt’s domestic security and policing, the Interior Ministry was blamed for much of the violence inflicted on demonstrators during the Revolution. Former Interior Minister Habib al-Adly is now facing charges connected to the deaths of protestors, as are a number of other police officials. However, many police never returned to work after the Revolution, while others have engaged in anti-Ministry protests and arson attacks on police facilities. Now a series of police strikes has broken out across Egypt that threatens to bring an end to the Egyptian Interior Ministry in its current form.

Striking Egyptian Police, Cairo

Demoralization is the dominant trend in Egypt’s police forces since the Revolution, with many fearing prosecution by the nation’s new military rulers. The police strikes are also part of a larger wave of labor unrest that continues to sweep Egypt since the Revolution, with damaging effects on the national economy and the nation’s tourism industry, an important source of jobs and foreign currency.

The police strikes began on October 24. Thousands of police have gathered in a camp outside the gates of the Interior Ministry headquarters in Cairo, while in the Red Sea Province city of Hughada, striking police stormed the local police headquarters and destroyed the office of its director. Police at Cairo’s international airport have erected tents in the airport’s arrivals hall (al-Masry al-Youm [Cairo], October 26). Most importantly, the strikers’ have threatened not to provide security for Egypt’s November 27 parliamentary elections.

Though he was regarded as an unpopular choice within the ministry, new Interior Minister Mansur Essawy took office last March by pledging he would restore security and reduce the role played in Egyptian life by the security services (Ahram Online, March 23; al-Jazeera, March 7). However, since the revolution police are rarely seen on the streets and Egyptians have been urged to take measures to ensure their own security. Crime rates are soaring and car-theft has become an epidemic as police fail or refuse to respond to complaints (Ahram Online, October 26).

Many of the protestors’ grievances predate the Revolution, but complainants at that time were routinely met with investigation, punishment or dismissal. Though the nature of the exact grievances differs according to local circumstances, most can be grouped into the following categories:

  • Calls for the resignation of Interior Minister Mansur Essawy.
  • Higher wages, though some police have said this does not necessarily entail greater funds from the public purse, only the proper distribution of funds now stolen by senior police officials.
  • Access to police hospitals, which in practice are only open to senior police officers and their friends and families.
  • Improved working hours and coverage of transportation expenses.
  • The dismissal of a number of police generals known for corruption and their close ties to former Interior Minister Habib al-Adly.
  • An end to military trials for policemen. Some striking policemen claim it was fear of military trials for disobedience that was responsible for their brutal treatment of protestors during the Revolution (Bikya Masr [Cairo], October 25; al-Masry al-Youm, October 24, October 26).

Some demonstrating policemen have complained their representatives have emerged from discussions from senior ministry officials with raises for themselves, but nothing for their comrades (Daily News Egypt, October 25).

Civilian ministry workers have also joined the protests, claiming they are treated worse than the policemen, although demands such as institutionalized recruitment of their sons and daughters for ministry jobs seem to reflect the ways of the old regime (Daily News Egypt, October 25).

On October 25, the ministry issued a statement saying it had agreed to most of the strikers’ demands, but warned that it would not tolerate any threats to the security of the November parliamentary elections (al-Masry al-Youm [Cairo], October 26). Deputy Interior Minister General Abd al-Latif al-Bidiny offered some observations on the strike on state TV on October 26, acknowledging the legitimacy of the strikers’ demands while suggesting the entire structure of the Interior Ministry needed to be replaced, but only after the political and security spheres had stabilized (al-Masry al-Youm [Cairo], October 26).

This article was first published in the October 28, 2011 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor