Police officer Ahmed Mashaly stands at a checkpoint along the Agriculture Road with no helmet or protective vest.
He has had no proper training to be in the field, and every day that he is stationed there, he prays to God that he will survive the day’s work.
“God is the one who saves me,” he says.
Drive-by shootings targeting high-ranking policemen and the assassination of junior policemen stationed at checkpoints have intensified since the ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi. More than 100 police personnel have been killed since July 2013.
In just one week in February, a National Security officer was killed and two other police personnel were shot in separate incidents in Sharqiya alone.
Incidents like these have become ordinary news, while frustrations within the police force are growing.
Lower-ranking policemen organized protests in Beheira, Kafr al-Sheikh, Monufiya and Qena in early February to demand the minimum wage, increase in incentives, healthcare and insurance, and proper weaponry. Others went on strike in seven different governorates, including Gharbiya, Sharqiya and Qalyubiya, to protest the deaths of their colleagues.
Karim Ennarah, a researcher on criminal justice and police issues at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), does not see the strikes coming to an end without a radical political solution.
“It would take a lot more than an increase in wages, much like the rest of the ongoing labor strikes in Egypt,” says Ennarah.
At one point in the protests, police chanted against the Ministry of Interior, calling for an end to corruption within the ministry.
“The Ministry of Interior has to accept that it must be reformed. We want to restructure the ministry,” exhorts former Colonel Mohamed Mahfouz. “It cannot operate in the same way that it used to.”
“If you want to fix the state then you need to fix the Ministry of Interior first,” says junior policeman Hassan Shandy. “But reform has to come from within the ministry, because it is a complicated state on its own.”
In the current climate, however, Ennarah believes that “a complete or even moderate restructuring is unlikely. What we can hope and advocate for is exercising some kind of accountability over the work of the existing police force.”
“We were living a beautiful dream during the January 25 revolution, but the same problems are still here today,” says Mashaly, who is a member of a police officers coalition that was formed in 2011.
Among other things, the coalition demanded that officials who had worked under former President Hosni Mubarak’s Interior Minister Habib al-Adly be removed. However, this has not happened.
Mahfouz, who was part of the National Initiative to Rebuild the Police that was also established in 2011, says, “After the revolution, there was hope that the ministry would be rehabilitated.”
Mahfouz adds that while there were salary increases for police in 2011 and slightly better working hours, the main problems facing the police force have not been addressed. Most significantly, he says, there is still no formal body that fights for the rights of the police.
Mohamed Nabil Omar, head of the explosives unit at the Ismailia Security Directorate, was spearheading a campaign that began in 2011 to establish a syndicate for policemen.
Omar was the general coordinator of the General Alliance for Police Officers, which was also formed in 2011 and, according to Omar, was the main force behind the decision to put up a barricade on Mohamed Mahmoud Street during clashes in November of that year to halt the ongoing bloodshed.
“It was a communal effort. We didn’t get any sleep. I worked my regular hours and then I worked as part of the alliance,” he says.
Ennarah worked closely with the General Alliance for Police Officers, as well as the General Alliance for Junior Policemen, on a reform plan for the ministry in 2011. The policemen were more open to reform than the officers, he says.
By the beginning of 2013, however, the Ministry of Interior had succeeded in containing the activities of the alliances that had mobilized the different ranks, Ennarah says.
The officers alliance wanted to establish a police club, similar to the judges club, capable of acting as a body through which the police can demand their rights and communicate them to higher level officials within the Ministry of Interior.
Prior to the June 30 protests, the club took a stand against police securing the Muslim Brotherhood’s headquarters on that day and pledged not to attack protesters, Omar says.
The club is still in existence, but its influence has been largely diminished, and it has not been officially registered by the Ministry of Interior out of fear that the club could leverage influence against the ministry, Omar explains.
Additionally, Article 76 of the recently approved Constitution stipulates that syndicates “may not be established within governmental bodies,” a clause that had not been present in any prior constitution.
But establishing a “club” to get around that provision isn’t enough.
A club “can never take on the role played by a syndicate,” former Colonel Mahfouz says. “They are registered as a social club.”
“Unfortunately, the Constitution has closed that chapter,” adds Mahfouz.
The question of reform has largely disappeared from police rhetoric following the mass protests that paved the way for Morsi’s ouster, Ennarah says. The period since those protests have seen a shift in the public’s perception of the police force — formerly lambasted as monsters, they are now regarded as national heroes, and the fallen among their ranks often described as martyrs.
Ennarah also notes that while the policemen were opposed to Minister of Interior Mohamed Ibrahim upon his appointment under the Morsi administration, they started to support him following June 30.
Today, the police say they face increased pressure because of the rapidly intensifying attacks on their ranks that have left at least 100 dead, while they receive little to no financial or social benefits.
A police officer, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of the consequences of speaking out against the ministry, says that while he understands current economic conditions may forestall a wage hike for police officers, he still demands that equality be applied within the different police ranks.
As an officer in public security, he gets paid the least among those at the same rank in different security bodies, such as State Security, he explains.
“The commodity of security is the most expensive one — it has to be met with good salaries. If you have good security, then you have tourists,” he says.
Additionally, the officer says that the working hours for the majority of police personnel has increased during the current period. Many work 12 hour shifts at a time with no benefits.
“What can you possibly get out of a policeman working these hours with this kind of salary?” he asks.
Lower ranking policemen earn monthly salaries as low as LE600-700, and are often forced to work a second job or look to earn some extra cash through corrupt practices, junior policeman Shandy explains.
Additionally, 2 percent of their salaries goes to medical care at police hospitals and another 2 percent goes to police club facilities — both of which junior policemen are banned from entering, Shandy says.
He explains that at the police clubs, regular citizens can enter upon buying a ticket, while junior policemen are barred from entry due to discrimination within the police force.
Junior policemen complain that they are not given proper treatment and that their families do not have access to treatment at all, while police officers and their families enjoy better medical services.
Shandy recalls that he was taken to the police hospital after being severely injured in Minya during a spate of violence. He waited for three hours in the reception area although he was suffering from internal bleeding. He was then prescribed some medicine by a doctor who told him to leave the hospital.
“I asked him, ‘Do you really think I can stand up on my two feet’?” Shandy recounts.
Following the recent strikes by junior policemen, the Ministry of Interior announced a 30 percent increase in hazard pay. In real terms, that translates to a LE100 increase for police officers and LE80 for junior policemen, Shandy says.
He describes the move as a form of propaganda.
“The ministry is trying to tarnish our reputation before the people by claiming that they are giving in to our demands, but that we are saboteurs or belong to political parties that want to harm security,” he explains.
Another major issue facing the police is lack of proper training and equipment.
Colonel Mahfouz says that police have always been poorly trained, but it was never apparent in ordinary criminal work. Now that they are being targeted by what he describes as terrorist organizations, Mahfouz contends that their lack of training is a main factor in so many policemen’s deaths.
“Whoever goes out dressed in a police uniform nowadays is committing suicide,” Shandy claims.
While policemen enjoyed a certain level of freedom in expressing their opinions and demands following the revolution and during Morsi’s era, they say that in the current period they suffer from grave consequences if they speak up.
According to the anonymous officer, 39 police personnel were dismissed on false claims that they belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood after they spoke out against the article in the Constitution that prohibits the formation of a police syndicate.
The policemen complain that every regime has used them as pawns of the system, when they would rather act as a civil body.
“Every regime that comes into power uses the police force to rid it of all their opponents. Every regime politicizes us,” the anonymous officer says. “We want to be a civil police force that is respected by everyone.”
It is impossible for the police to protect the public’s rights when its own rights are not met, he asserts.
“I am someone who is deprived of a lot of things. I can’t even speak my mind,” Omar says.
“Don’t ask me to give you your rights if I don’t have mine,” he says, quoting an Arabic proverb that loosely translates to: “He who has lost something does not give it.”