The Interior Ministry versus police clubs

Members of police clubs and associations claim the Interior Ministry used recent media reports on bad apples within the police to draft legislation against low-ranking personnel.

Critical media reports were spurred by two incidents in particular that provoked public outrage: the shooting and killing of a young driver in Darb al-Ahmar in mid February, and an assault against doctors at Matareya Hospital, which resulted in a nationwide doctors strike against police violations. In response, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi called for more legislation to better regulate the performance of the police.

Some police personnel argue, however, that the Interior Ministry took advantage of the media spotlight, if not actively fueled it, to impose tighter restrictions on the movements of certain ranks of police and their mobilization.

“Not listening to us and our rights, ignoring us, is a form of prejudice against our role in the police … this oppressive image will be reflected onto the people … implementing these oppressive laws will become an oppressive tool against the people,” read a memo drafted by several organizations of low-ranking police personnel in response to what they describe as a “systematic campaign” against them.

The memo, which was posted on the Police Coalition’s Facebook page on March 3, added, “The Ministry of Interior has ignored us as it used to before, and dealt with us by enacting laws … based on systematic media campaigns … that were used to squander our rights.”

In response to amendments to Egypt’s police laws, which were approved by the State Council’s legislative department on March 10, some members of the police force have grown increasingly frustrated at what they consider to be efforts by the Interior Ministry to undermine their right to collective organization and bargaining, and to disband police clubs and associations that were formed in the wake of the 2011 uprising.

Article 42 of the police law now lists a number of prohibitions, most significantly forbidding personnel from joining political, religious or factional entities, and from establishing police unions. The amendments also prohibit police associations from engaging in politics.

“The clubs are the voice of police personnel … they contribute significantly to the stability of their work within the Interior Ministry,” says a member of one of the clubs for low-ranking police, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Police coalitions and clubs for low-ranking personnel didn’t exist prior to the 2011 revolution. They came about as a result of nationwide anti-police sentiment and rising frustrations from within police ranks over low wages, long hours and lack of adequate equipment.

The General Coalition for Police Officers and the General Coalition for Low-Ranking Police, among other clubs and quasi-police unions, were established to facilitate the communication of police grievances and demands. These bodies participated in drafting reform plans for the Interior Ministry in 2011, along with members of civil society.

“There was a world of difference before and after the revolution,” says the anonymous policeman. “We had a reformative purpose and a rights-based purpose, but this has gone now,” he adds, asserting that the new legislation has restricted them to social activities only, robbing them of their rights.

Lieutenant Colonel Mohamed Omar, a founding member of the General Coaliton for Police Officers, expects the Interior Ministry to prevent them from holding elections next month, and from holding elections in the General Coalition for Low-Ranking Police the month after.

“The purpose is to destroy them, to not have any voice to represent them,” he says.

The last meeting of the officers coaliton was on June 15, 2013, when Omar recalls they agreed not to defend the government during the June 30 protests and to stand with the people instead. He says they haven’t met since.

Omar is also critical of the ministry’s policy of summarily suspending police personnel who give statements to the media or even express their opinions on social media.

“You have turned the policeman into a man who is against the state,” he says of the Interior Ministry.

The anonymous policeman agrees, but stresses that he thinks amendments to the police laws are specifically aimed at low-ranking personnel.

“The ministry is against us because they feel it is a tight group,” he says, citing the example of a recent police protest in front of Sharqiya Security Directorate in February, after four policemen were arrested for incitement against the Interior Ministry. In the same month, seven members of the Sharqiya police coalition were arrested on their way to a television interview to comment on the ministry’s campaign against lower-ranking police personnel. One of the charges leveled against them is for joining a banned group.

Magdy Abdel Ghaffar has been against police clubs and associations since he took over as Interior Minister, the low-ranking policeman says.

Ali al-Raggal, a researcher in security affairs, suspects the ministry had a hand in the media campaign following the Darb al-Ahmar shooting, as he thinks they were waiting for an opportunity to amend police laws and suppress lower-ranking personnel.

“It was made especially for them, tailored for them,” he says. “The ministry wants to tighten its grip on police.”

Sisi held an urgent meeting with Abdel Ghaffar after the Darb al-Ahmar incident to discuss the new police laws. Raggal asserts the amendments to the law were already drafted, as they were issued immediately.

He compares the police movement to the doctors movement, which has many coalitions and clubs across the country, but says the difference is the police clubs are armed and have an authoritative relationship with society.

A crackdown on these groups will only exacerbate an already tense environment, Raggal suggests, leading to increasing violations if frustrations continue to rise among the lower ranks. He anticipates a return to pre-2011 conditions — with widespread violations and bad public relations.

Omar warns, “If you violate [police] rights, you have to expect that they will also violate other people’s rights.” 

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Passant Rabie