The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

The tale of Kerdasa's police chief

 Thugs are thugs. They attack because they can. It makes little difference whether they are from the MB or not. Those were Kerdasa's police chief Mohamed Gabr's thoughts on his unfriendly neighborhood thugs, according to his relative Mohamed Khalil, which he conveyed a month before his brutal murder became a default example of the violence carried out by some Islamists.

Khalil and his friend Amr (an acquaintance) met chief Gabr the night they got into car accident and were taken to the Kerdasa police station for driving without a license on the Mehwar. The man offered the tea and coffee while they waited for the unlawful released the car without due process. Mostly done as a favor for his relative, partly because parts of the vehicle were going to “get misplaced” in police custody anyway. 

There Khalil and Amr encountered two signs of police weakness. The first came as a suggestion by chief Gabr himself to pay a neighborhood thug some money to let their car be and the second stood as a reminder outside the station. 

It was a lonely watchtower that fell outside of the station’s premises, inexplicably completely out of reach for the officers who were supposed to man it. The tower is the awkward result of a standoff between the police and thugs months ago that took place when the station was being restored after the 2011 nationwide attacks on the police. They had begun to build an enclosure wall around the then-new tower. However, their plan was frowned upon by a group of thugs, who had unilaterally decided that they owned the land outside the station and didn’t wish to see a wall built on it. The land, they decreed, was going to be used as a garage, where they could keep the new cars they found parked alone nearby. Outnumbered (and humiliated I might add), the police conceded to build the wall behind the tower, leaving it stranded in the new garage.

One of the few, if not the only, positive outcomes of Jan 25 that people cite is the breaking of the barrier of fear. People now are not afraid to speak their mind, protest, etc. But courage turned into impudence for some. Now people also feel safe criticizing the killing of hundreds mostly peaceful protesters, or retrieving a family member from a jail cell and shooting whoever doesn’t get out of their way fast enough.

That prompted chief Gabr to take a series of precautions to avoid the recurrent violence. First, he decided not to keep weapons in the stations anymore - nothing more than the handguns carried by each officer, that is - to dissuade nonpaying gun shoppers from visiting. And then he decided to play Hide and Seek (Elsewhere) with the families of all prisoners.

"If I arrest someone, I always make sure they get transferred to another prison so their families wouldn't know where he is," he had explained to Khalil in his office over tea. "If a prisoner spends the night here, his family will come in, take the keys, unlock the gate and take him out. If I so much as say a word; I would get shot." And he did, less than a week ago.

Only he wasn't just shot, they also reportedly slit his throat, stripped him down to his underwear, tied him to a car, next to his subordinates who suffered a similar fate, and dragged him around the station for a while before coming to rest in front of a brick wall (believed to be al-Sho'araa mosque, 300 hundred meters away from the station) where his body was dumped alongside others on the ground for people to gawk at.

There, the corpses were videotaped and asked why they brought that upon themselves. Their mothers were cursed and their red faces were covered with white sheets, only to be repeatedly uncovered by curious bystanders. (To sample the mindless violence, watch this video of one of the victims, seemingly alive, being asked to say the shahada, and when he failed to respond, a bystander furiously concluded that he was a Zionist).

Meanwhile, other bystanders cursed “the bearded sheikhs” that allegedly killed the policemen, only hours after the dispersal of the Raba'a sit-in begun, according to Mohamed Hossam, a local who watched the attack from his balcony with his neighbors.

“The neighbors were crying the whole time. My own father didn’t eat for the rest of the day,” he said, as if more perplexed by the emotional reaction to the vile public murder of almost a dozen people than by the murder itself.

“(Kerdasa’s islamists) lost people in Raba’a, so they wanted to make an example out of the police in Kerdasa,” he added dryly. “I wanted to do something, anything...but if the police can’t protect itself, then who will protect me?”