There have been numerous clashes between military and police forces in recent years. Local media has portrayed several such incidents since the 2011 revolution as the result of personal conflict, yet ongoing confrontation seems to indicate a tension that runs deeper than merely a clash of personalities.
Since former President Mohamed Morsi’s ouster in 2013, the state has propagated an image of the military and police as united in the “war against terrorism.” But an incident that occurred in Monufiya this week has raised questions about the state of relations between the two institutions.
On Tuesday, a member of the military police blockade the Shebeen al-Kom police station after a military pilot was taken there for failing to show his driving license at a checkpoint. A police report was filed against the pilot, who then called his colleagues. They arrived at the station and reportedly attempted to take the low-ranking arresting officer, but his fellow police officers refused to hand him over, and instead closed the station. The governor, his military advisor, the governorate’s security director and Commander of the Central Division General Tawheed Tawfiq all had to intervene to resolve the conflict.
This is indicative of historical tension between the two institutions that revolves around contested financial perks, political and social influence, and absolute power.
Analysts have traced the dispute’s origins back to deposed President Hosni Mubarak’s administration. In The Republic of Officers in Egypt, Carnegie Middle East Center researcher Yazid al-Sayegh wrote that the Mubarak era precipitated a growing dependence on the Interior Ministry’s security apparatus to keep the peace, with the ministry’s budget tripling that of the Defense Ministry overall. Interior Ministry personnel also swelled to 1.4 million in number during this time.
Former Interior Minister Habib al-Adly headed the Central Security Forces (CSF) before he assumed the helm of the ministry, where he stayed for the last 13 years of Mubarak’s tenure. The CSF’s powers increased tremendously under Adly’s rule, to the extent that it began tracking the phones of military leaders — previously the role of the military intelligence services — according to documents found in the CSF headquarters in Nasr City in 2011.
Aly al-Raggal, a socio-political researcher and security analyst, says that the Interior Ministry essentially served as the state’s hard drive of information under Mubarak, as well as its primary tool for ensuring presidential inheritance.
Mohamed Mahfouz, a former brigadier general and founder of the “Police for the People of Egypt” initiative, agrees with Raggal. Mahfouz says that the expansion of the Interior Ministry, at the expense of the Defense Ministry, came about due to the military’s disapproval of the presidential inheritance project, under which it was widely anticipated that Hosni Mubarak’s son — Gamal Mubarak — would assume this role.
The Armed Forces always believed that Egypt’s leader should come from the military, the only institution historically worthy of such a position, says Mahfouz. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was formerly head of military intelligence, and tracked the practices of all the Interior Ministry’s security personnel, including violations committed by the CSF.
The military’s marginalization under Mubarak led to a conflict of interest, especially in the last decade of the fallen president’s rule, according to Sayegh. He says this conflict resulted in a widespread conviction that the Interior Ministry was an integral part of the network of corruption affiliated with Gamal Mubarak.
During this period, the Interior Ministry also tried to take advantage of its prominent role by forming an economic base, much like the military, says Mahfouz. The ministry established and ran a number of companies, such as Al-Fath, Al-Mustaqbal and print houses that generated profit for their employees with no general oversight, in a similar vein to that of military sponsored initiatives, he adds.
General Ahmed Abdel Halim, a consultant for the Nasser Military Institution and a former member of the dissolved National Democratic Party, declined to be interviewed about the Interior Ministry’s expanding role during this period, aside from stating, “Let’s not talk about this period of time. Yes, there were violations, but there were no betrayals.”
But after the January 25, 2011 revolution, the Armed Forces regained some of the political power it lost under Mubarak. Raggal says the military benefited from the revolution by limiting the Interior Ministry’s powers through legislation, and also supplanted the surveillance functions of the security forces.
During the 18-day uprising in 2011 that ended with the ousting of former President Hosni Mubarak, the police left their posts, leaving the military to pick up the role of patrolling the streets and government buildings and institutions.
The overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood after the June 30, 2103 protests represented another opportunity to redistribute powers across various security sectors. The Armed Forces once again became a dominating political power, but at the same time, the Interior Ministry attempted to recast itself as an institution “for the people” after it supported the June 30 protests.
The two institutions jointly opposed Morsi’s government, and then appeared to cooperate in the fight against terrorism that was declared shortly thereafter — but nonetheless, a major battle for power has continued over the past two years.
After Sisi was elected, several new laws were passed in the absence of parliament to reinforce the military’s role in matters of internal security. Military courts were given significant power, which critics have seen as an attempt to diminish civil law and subordinate the police to the Armed Forces.
On October 27, 2014, Sisi also issued a law allowing the Armed Forces to secure vital facilities alongside police forces, including power stations, gas pipelines, railway stations, bridges and roads. The same law gave military courts the right to try civilians accused of blocking roads or vandalizing public property.
Sisi then inserted several military personnel into civilian positions, notably including General Khaled Abdel Salam, who was appointed secretary general to the parliament — the first time a member of the military has held this position. Once an elected parliament is seated, Abdel Salam will oversee its daily operations.
The president has justified granting increased powers to the military by pointing to mounting security threats — he says the current circumstances demand that the Armed Forces support the police, and refuses allegations that these actions were motivated by a lack of trust in the Interior Ministry.
However, the Interior Ministry has been working hard to rebuild its powers of influence as well, such as by increasing arms and bonuses for its personnel. Last March, former Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim increased the health care budget for the police force by up to LE30 million, and also imported 50,000 new arms.
According to observers, under Ibrahim the ministry also provided selective political amnesty for its employees from any criminal accusations concerning the killing or torturing of protesters or prisoners.
A brief timeline of prominent clashes between military and police personnel
Here are details of some of the clashes between military and police forces since the January 2011 revolution that have been reported by local media.
April 24, 2015
Military police blockaded Shebeen al-Kom police station after a low-ranking traffic officer held a military pilot at the station for not showing his driving license.
The pilot’s car was stopped at a checkpoint in front of the administrative building of the University of Monufiya. The situation escalated from a quarrel into a fistfight that passers-by had to intervene in.
The pilot called his unit, who moved on the police station with the intention of arresting the low-ranking officer and turning him over to military prosecution, However, his police colleagues closed the station to prevent this from happening.
The governor, security director and commander of the central division intervened to resolve the conflict, privately owned Al-Watan newspaper reported.
November 11, 2014
A verbal altercation between a naval forces officer and an officer from Moharam Beik police station escalated into a fistfight. The deputy sheriff held the naval officer in custody until military police sieged the police station. The clashes resulted in the death of a policeman from the station.
A military officer was stopped at a police checkpoint on the Port Said – Ismailia road. They fought, the clash developed into a fistfight and both sides filed reports. The military officer then went back to the checkpoint with members of his unit, arrested the police officers and took them to a military base to teach them a lesson, according to privately owned Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper.
According to a controversial picture posted by the military officer online, the policemen were made to stand in the sun for hours as punishment for their subordination.
In a condescending comment under the picture, the military officer addressed the police officer who picked a fight with him, but also the police in general after the January 25, 2011 revolution, when they left their posts, leaving the military to step in.
“The situation is very simple, the whole problem stems from the fact that he forgot who he is, forgot that he ran and hid, left his weapon behind, forgot who secured him, who gave him back his job, who stood by him until the people forgave him, who paid his salary, who bought him cars and new weaponry instead of those he lost when he was smacked on the head, forgot the military tank and the conscript who are still protecting him and his police station to prevent his prisoners from smacking him again and stealing his firearm.”
March 2, 2014
According to privately owned newspaper Al-Shorouk, a low-ranking officer from Imbaba Police Station and a military conscript assigned to secure the station clashed and exchanged accusations. An army officer blocked the station with an armoured vehicle and opened fire on the building, which prompted dozens of police inside to chant “down with military rule,” as captured in a now infamous YouTube video. Both parties intervened to resolve the conflict.
March 3, 2013
Following a court ruling in the Port Said stadium case, protests broke out, including an attack on prisoners’ families outside the prison and, in retaliation, an attempted prison break.
Armed forces were deployed to protect state facilities, and as a protest approached the security governorate, police forces fired and launched tear gas that hit the military personnel assigned to secure the building. A military unit attempted to calm the situation and asked the police to refrain from shooting. However, the police refused, according to Al-Watan. Eyewitnesses claim the military arrested a number of policemen.
During the exchange of fire, a conscript was killed and military officer Sherif al-Araishy was injured.
November 18, 2012
A military officer was stopped at a checkpoint in front of the police academy and asked for his driving license. A verbal disagreement developed into a fistfight and the military officer was dragged to a police station in New Cairo, according to Al-Shorouk.
A number of military officers gathered in front of the police station and chanted against the police. The police fired, and an armed forces officer was shot in the foot, before tear gas was used to disperse them.
The military police joined in the fight, demanding that the policemen involved be subjected to a military trial. The Armed Forces intervened and promised a fair trial.