The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

On the occasion of Police Day

Many readers will know that today is Police Day in Egypt, a commemoration of the resistance by Islamailiya police against the British in 1952 during which 41 police officers were killed. For decades it has also bee the annual occasion for pageantry by the Ministry of Interior, the highlight of which is a boat show on the Nile. It will also be, potentially, the revival of a large anti-government, anti-torture protests, with many hoping for a turnout on the streets not seen since 2005 or perhaps even the day of the invasion of Iraq in 2003. One of the main organizer appears to be the Facebook group for Khaled Said, the victim of police brutality who died last year and became a symbol of torture, which will be providing continuous updates throughout the day. You might also read Jack Shenker's optimistic take in the Guardian, or this piece on the Ministry of Interior's pledge to arrest anyone who takes part in al-Masri al-Youm. We'll see how it turns out — in my book, if you get a tenth of the 80,000 people or so who support the initiative online, it will be a success. 

Before we see how the day unfolds, though, I'd like to announce the publication of a major new book on a related issue. Christopher Weeks' Egyptian Police Vehicles is a work of such staggering political-security nerdishness it can only be acknowledged as pure genius. It covers the 1980-2010 period and is subtitled "Including Fire Engines, Traffic Administrations, Private Security Companies, Boats and Aircraft." It is shock-full of interesting information and trivia about the vehicles and the occasions on which they were deployed, such as the 1977 bread riots. This is really a rare insight into a mundane but important aspect of how a state is policed. 

The book is available on and soon on Amazon.

I emailed Christopher Weeks last night and he agreed to answer a few questions about his work.

What on earth possessed you to write a book about Egyptian police vehicles?

I've lived and travelled in Egypt for many years and have accumulated lots of photographs and notes of all sorts.  This book was an attempt to do something with a small fraction of what I've gathered.  Personally and professionally, I'm interested in contemporary politics, security and defense issues.  Police vehicles are one of those common everyday sights in Egypt, but something few people really pay attention to (except in a negative way -- by fearing the police).  But to me, the more I noticed the styles and colors and types, the more interesting they were.  Or maybe I just spent too much time sitting in traffic staring at cars and trucks.
How did you conduct your research for the book? Did you spent time inside police vehicles?
Most of the research was just careful observation.  There is very little published information on the Egyptian police, and they don't exactly welcome scrutiny or questions.  I had to be very careful in taking many of these photos, and I would strongly encourage anyone to treat the police with caution and seriousness.  Fortunately I've never spent time inside an Egyptian police vehicle, though many others haven't been so lucky.
Do you have a favorite Egyptian police vehicle, and if so, why?
A favorite one?  Ha!  Maybe the good old pickup truck -- battered, dusty, reliable, the ubiquitous workhorse of the police and so many other Egyptians.
Any future plans for other countries?
No plans for other countries -- it would take me another lifetime to gather the material!
But I would love to do the definitive guide to Egyptian taxicabs -- that would be a best-seller for sure!

And here's an excerpt from a typical entry: