- Life Style
Hundreds of police descended on Tahrir Square Sunday afternoon, in an attempt to “make amends with the people of Egypt,” explained one officer, who wished to remain anonymous. “We want the people to see, and understand, that we are not the ones that attacked them. Only a minority of officers chose to follow [former Minister of Interior] Habib al-Adly’s orders, and we should not all be held responsible for their actions.”
The protesting officers, marching in groups from various police stations and converging in Tahrir Square, carried signs and banners, and chanted slogans that echoed those of the anti-Mubarak demonstrators who occupied the square for the past 19 days. “There is no God but God, and Habib al-Adly is the enemy of God,” one officer led the chanting, as he was hoisted above the crowds by his colleagues. “The police and the people are one hand”--a variation on the popular slogan championing the people’s relationship with the armed forces--was met with smiles of bemusement from army soldiers cordoning the area, and cries of derision from nearby civilians, who flocked to take advantage of the opportunity to admonish the gathering police officers.
Besides leading to the downfall of President Hosni Mubarak, the recent revolution also saw the complete disintegration of the people’s relationship with police, after officers repeatedly resorted to violence against peaceful protests, then withdrew altogether to leave the nation unprotected against looters, vandals and thousands of escaped (or released) convicts. As a result, the institution--already notorious for its rampant corruption and brutality--has now become the focus of many civilians’ anger.
Despite the obvious rage provoked by their presence, the protesting police members--all lower-ranking officers--did their best to convince the people that they had been “misunderstood.”
“We are sorry for your losses, but we all have bosses, and we were just following orders from ours,” an officer pleaded, his arms held up above the crowd. His excuses were met with negative comments and insults. An enraged older lady repeatedly screamed, “You are all dogs!”
“You cannot judge an entire body by the actions of just a few,” one uniformed officer explained to Al-Masry Al-Youm. “The fingers on one hand are not all the same, and we are here to tell these noble people we want to start over again. We want a new page.”
Despite the surrounding ruckus, the officer’s comments were overheard by an older man, who replied angrily, “There will be no new page, and you will never be forgiven or respected. You are murderers and thugs, and you should all be persecuted.” The officer remained calm and tried to explain, but was not given a chance, as enraged civilians continued to swarm around him. One civilian even reached out to pull at the officer’s epaulette, yelling, “Have you no shame?”, forcing the officer to retreat from the crowd.
Other officers were also met with several enraged inquiries. A low-ranking officer explaining to a television crew how he and his colleagues were “forced” by their superiors to “raise our weapons against our brother citizens” was repeatedly asked by crowd members why he chose to follow such orders. “Do you not have a conscience?” several civilians asked--a question the young officer ignored until it mutated into a chorus of “Have you no shame?” and “You will be punished.”
Not all officers participating in the protest were attempting to clear their collective name and reputation. Others were more interested in securing their rights. “This revolution has woken up something inside all of us,” explained Hisham S., a low ranking officer who, in his 17 years of police service, has never once been promoted. “Promotions and pay raises only go to the high-ranking officers and their sons and family members. I have a university degree in law, but I am poor and have no connections, which means I will never be allowed to rise from the level I am currently in.”
Other officers agree. After almost 20 years with the force, Galal’s salary still “isn’t even close to LE1,000 a month. The most I make is about LE800, and that’s not enough. I am a family man. When the choice is between accepting a bribe, or having your children starve to death, it’s really no choice at all.”
According to Galal and a crowd of surrounding officers, discrimination within the force wasn’t limited to salaries and promotions. “Only high-ranking officers are eligible for health insurance. The most the rest of us can get is an occasional visual checkup and a written prescription for medication we could never afford. This non-service isn’t even extended to our direct family members.”
High-ranking officers, the protesting policemen claim, get all the benefits and comfortable jobs. “They sit in their comfortable offices, reading reports, drinking coffee, and ordering us to attack our own people and brothers,” one officer explained. “We are the ones sleeping on the streets and struggling to get by.”
“We want the system to change, so that we as police officers can change,” Galal states. “Do you really think we want to be looked at as enemies of the people? The majority of us took this job because we want to be respected, and loved. Now, the whole country loathes us, and we want them to see it’s not our fault.”
“Now the regime is over and change is possible,” says Mohamed, who attended the protest in full uniform. “It was a filthy regime, characterized by oppression, and nepotism. Behind the scenes, there were things so horrible going on, you would not believe me if I told you. You would spit in my face. Nobody wants that to continue, and now is the time to change things.”
“We were all victims, the police and the people,” sighs Mohamed. “We were all pawns.”