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Cairo clashes highlight tensions between Egyptian police, public

June 29, 2011


Egyptian riot police and demonstrators throw stones at each other during clashes close to the interior ministry in Cairo, early Wednesday, June 29. Egyptian security forces and protesters are clashing for a second successive day in central Cairo in scenes not seen since the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak earlier this year. Khalil Hamra/AP

Major clashes erupted in Cairo overnight, underscoring the volatility of Egypt as it seeks to transition from revolution to a more democratic state. Thousands of protesters, demanding speedier prosecutions for the police who killed hundreds of demonstrators earlier this year, clashed with riot police in Tahrir Square.

The rioting snowballed after a planned memorial service for Egyptians killed in the uprising went awry last night. When families of the dead arrived at the Balloon Theater downtown, they were turned away by security. Shouting soon escalated, and police began beating people and using tasers, with the crowd eventually swelling. Later in the evening, the clashed moved to Tahrir Square.

Today the roads to the iconic square, which served as the epicenter for a revolution that toppled former President Hosni Mubarak, were lined with rubble Wednesday. Ambulances whizzed by, police lobbed tear-gas canisters, and protesters retaliated by throwing stones. Nearly 50 policemen and 132 protesters have been injured, according to security and hospital officials cited by the Associated Press.

The police, once feared by civilians, are now seen as leftover elements of Mubarak’s regime and treated with little respect. Pulled off the streets after violently cracking down on protests in January, they are now trying to reshape their role in the post-Mubarak Egypt.


But their tarnished image and dwindled presence since Jan. 28, which has coincided with a rise in crime, are having harrowing effects on Egypt’s stability. Analysts say reduced levels of effective security are one of the foremost issues thwarting potential mending of the troubled economy.

“There are a lot of people speaking out against the police and instances of people breaking into police stations, which is unheard of,” says Ahmed Kamaly, associate professor and chair of the economics department at the American University in Cairo. “They are going to scare off investors.”

Police cadets train despite popular disdain

Inside the sprawling, majestic complex of Egypt’s Police Academy, drums boldly beat as horses trot across the equestrian field. Cadets move about in crisp white uniforms with their heads held high despite feelings of disdain among the population they’re training to serve.

“When people on the street see me in uniform, some respect me, but others yell things like ‘You’re useless!’,” says third-year student Mohammad al-Zawahary sitting poised in his black-rimmed hat. “But I don’t get upset, because it’s expected.”


In one recent case in early June, an outraged mob lit fire to a police station not far from downtown Cairo after a brawl erupted between a bus driver and a policeman; the driver had been found to be dead. While the Interior Ministry denies foul play in the case, others claim police killed the driver after he was brought in to the station. Ninety police stations have been burned since the revolution’s start, according to government statistics.

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