x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

To inflict pain, Egypt police do nothing

Rampant crime, traffic chaos and now the deadly football riots this week are being blamed on police inaction – a strategy the force seems to have adopted to get back at the people.

Egyptians had for decades been of two minds when it came to security in their nation. They were grateful for the safety of their streets but frustrated with the heavy-handed methods used by the police.

Their frustration over the years turned into rage as the police became more and more brutal, violating human rights on such a scale that only a few of the nation's 85 million citizens felt immune from the abuse.

Last year, activists enraged by the beating death of a Alexandrian businessman by two policemen chose Police Day - January 25 - to launch an uprising that lasted 18 days and ended with the fall of Hosni Mubarak. During his rule, the police become a force to protect the regime and crush dissent. Police fought crime with torture, random arrests and, in some cases, hostage-taking.

A year later, Mr Mubarak is on trial, army generals have replaced him and Egyptians have cast off decades of apathy and speak their minds without fear.

Yet, the police force - the second-most powerful institution in the country after the armed forces - has hardly changed. Furthermore, the police appear determined to punish Egyptians for the uprising that exposed them as the regime's most hated organisation. The police simply are not doing their job and letting Egyptians witness the results.

At times, the police stand by and watch anything from traffic violations, brawls and even football riots without taking action. Last summer, police were caught on camera taunting protesters with a suggestive dance, while others used loudspeakers to hurl profanities at them.

Late last year, they responded violently to demonstrations, killing and wounding protesters during several days of pitched battles on streets leading to the interior ministry.

The failure of police to do their work has been a recurring theme in Egypt's political debate, with many politicians, including the Nobel Peace laureate Mohammed ElBaradei, saying they are vexed by the force's behaviour and the military's unwillingness to do anything about it.

Many Egyptians speculate the police are teaching them a lesson so that they again will be given the authority to enforce the law with impunity.

The police's perceived reluctance to function has been particularly evident in the past few weeks.

Last week, for example, armed robbers made away with millions of pounds after they raided a foreign bank branch in a Cairo suburb. The raid took place in broad daylight.

Earlier in the week, armed men robbed a foreign exchange office in Sharm El Sheikh. A French tourist was killed and another foreign visitor wounded in the melee.

Egyptians are struggling to cope with rampant crime, massive traffic and blatant parking violations that have turned life in the capital into a nightmare.

Outside Cairo, protesters block road and rail traffic while police stand by. Criminal gangs in big cities are terrorising residents, who complain of police inaction. The crime wave, fuelled in part by the escape of thousands of criminals from prisons and police stations, has prompted residents in some areas to set up vigilante groups to guard property.

The police's perceived refusal to do their job was on display with disastrous results on Wednesday, when they stood by and watched as 74 people died in Port Said as football fans killed each other. Witnesses described fans falling from the stadium's terraces and other scenes of chaos after fans from the local Al Masry team chased supporters of the visiting Al Ahly club with knifes, clubs and stones. Hundreds fled into the exit corridor, only to be crushed against a locked gate.

The riot prompted the newly elected parliament to convene an emergency session on Thursday. Legislator after legislator blamed the ruling generals for the disaster since they operate as a collective presidency. They called for the restructuring of the police force and the resignation of the interior minister, who is in charge of the police.