The Deteriorating Police-Public Relations
To understand the relationship between the Egyptian people on one hand and their government and its representatives on the other, we need to look back at least three decades. Prior to the 1980s, Egypt’s public sector had been the main provider of jobs in the country. The Egyptian state not only provided its citizens with a profession, but also protected people under a strong social welfare system. With Mubarak’s rise to power, however, Egypt opened up to neoliberal economic policies, shifting a large proportion of citizens from the public sector to the private sector. As Ismail puts it, “Larger segments of the population ceased to be clients of the state and were no longer bound by the social contract of earlier days whereby political quietism was exchanged for social goods.”20 This shift in government-citizen social relations resulted in a growing distance between the former and latter and spurred the government to develop its securitocracy regime. Simply put, Mubarak increased police presence to challenge the growing number of regime opponents.
More than three decades later, the evolving frustration of people with the institutions of the state erupted in the Kefaya movement. Often considered to have prepared the ground for the January 2011 protests,21 Kefaya—meaning “enough” in Arabic—was a group of intellectuals and community activists from all political backgrounds who denounced corruption, the country’s perpetual state of emergency, Mubarak’s fifth term, and “dynastic succession,”22 which alluded to Mubarak’s intention to have his son Gamal succeed him. Throughout 2004 and 2005, the Kefaya movement held several protests across the country. The police reaction was immediate. Attacks against the demonstrators, including infamous stick-wielding assaults on female protesters, were all part of the government’s covert attempt to stop the spread of the Kefaya movement. Police brutality marked the minds of Egyptians.
Despite the worsening situation, the Egyptian people continued to harbor hope. Like Tunisia’s Mohammed Bouazizi, Egypt’s Said, mentioned in the previous section, fueled the January 2011 protests. During the summer of 2010, thirty- two-year old Said was arrested by the police, dragged out of a cafe, and beaten to death in front of eyewitnesses. The same night, young men and women gathered in front of the police station, demanding justice for Said’s death. The government covered up the story, infuriating many Egyptians. The protests went on throughout Egypt during the summer of 2010 as people gathered for silent marches or demonstrations. The death of Said became a symbol of police brutality and received intense and widespread scrutiny. The famous Facebook page “We are all Khaled Said”23 reflected broad Egyptian sentiments. The stubbornness of the protesters eventually forced the Egyptian government to reopen the case and file a lawsuit against the two police officers responsible for Said’s death.24