Policing Egypt during Revolutionary Times
Hesham Genidy and Justine Salam
In modern Egyptian history, the national police force has played a considerably large role in stoking Egyptian resentment against each consecutive governing regime. Since the 1952 coup, such feelings of hostility toward the police have continued to be exacerbated, even more so over the last ten years of Hosni Mubarak’s rule, culminating in the events of January 2011. This resentment was most telling, considering that political activists chose Egypt’s Police Day holiday to hold their popular uprising against the Mubarak regime.1 Salwa Ismail describes this move as “turn[ing] the day into an occasion to indict the institution in charge of policing—in a sense, putting it under public trial.”2
Police authority in Egypt has been the preferred state tool for the preservation of security and order. Police work necessitates the imposition of some restrictions on individual rights and the acceptance of these restrictions by the public. Such limitations or restrictions can often be unwelcomed or challenged by citizens, and can contribute to a tense relationship between the public and the police. A tense public-police relationship is not unusual throughout the world, and can be found in developing and developed countries alike. As a hallmark of sociopolitical development, the general public should follow the rules and laws of the land and understand the nature and necessity of police work. Ideally, the public would recognize that a strong police force serves their best interests. In turn, a nationally respected police force also heeds best practices in police transparency, ethical conduct, and enforcement of laws, and should assist in crime prevention and build positive community relationships.
The situation in Egypt is, however, far removed from these ideal best practices. Police behavior and actions in the country’s recent history have led to public resentment of what is widely perceived as selective justice, and provoked enmity against the institution. The Egyptian public has a tendency to vent their wrath against police authorities in wider public and community disputes, even in instances where the latter have little control over the outcome of events. Enforcement officers, for instance, are often blamed for erroneous court rulings resulting from corruption in judicial processes and court systems. In fact,
Egypt’s police (mis)conduct is part of a broader problem with the Egyptian “securitocracy.”