The Egyptian Police

I have a piece up at The Daily Beast, looking at the Egyptian police force and the utter failure to reform it or hold it accountable in the 10 months since the revolution. If anything, the Ministry of the Interior -- whose purpose used to be defending the regime -- now feels it "is fighting for its survival," says one former high-ranking officer. 

The protesters seem to understand it that way too and at this point I think they are the ones attacking the police -- seemingly determined to reach the Ministry of Interior. But this all started because of some spectacular police brutality and because there has been a refusal (on the part of SCAF, of the government, of the Ministry of Interior) to hold any policemen accountable for the deaths during last January's uprising and for other abuses.

I spoke to activists who have been trying since the revolution to get real security sector reform on the agenda (to no avail) and to a former police officer and member of a small reform-minded group calling themselves The Honourable Officers. 

They all make the point that regular policemen are purposely kept poor, violent, corrupt -- under-paid, under-trained, threatened with severe punishments if they disobey orders (while high-level Ministry of Interior officials make salaries of up to $50,000 a month -- and God knows what else in bribes..). See, for example, this excellent portrait of a regular policeman by Jeffrey Fleishman in the LA Times. 

It is the leadership of the security forces that is responsible for cultivating the police force's hostility towards the revolution -- policemen are angry (ashamed and afraid too, I think); they feel they have lost the "respect" of society, because they can't imagine a respect that isn't founded on unaccountable power. 

The total impunity that the regime has been built on and has defended tooth and nail (because once you open that door, everyone can be held accountable) is what has led us here. If there is no rule of law, killings go unpunished, and the police are nothing more than a thugs-for-hire -- then people will take the law into their own hands, and they will fight the police in the street.