An Egyptian police officer shot three people after arguing with them over the price of a cup of tea in a Cairo suburb on Tuesday, leaving one of them dead. The incident raised furor among onlookers, who overturned a police car and assaulted another policeman.
According to one witness, two vehicles carrying riot police and an armored truck quickly arrived on the scene, only to be pelted by rocks by the victims’ family.
“Security forces are retreating and promising justice but the crowd is demanding police hand over the killer,” the witness, who declined to share his name for fear of reprisals, told Reuters.
Several such incidents of alleged police brutality have spurred protests across Egypt in the last few months. Fury over abuses by the country’s security forces fueled the 2011 uprising that led to the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, who had ruled the country for 30 years. Police have only become more brazen since then, according to organizations monitoring the situation.
Soaring Numbers Of Arrests
Since 2013, when Egypt’s current president took control of the country from Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammad Morsi in a military coup, “arbitrary and politically motivated arrests have soared,” according to Human Rights Watch.
Egyptian authorities have admitted to arresting tens of thousands of people since Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi rose to power. Local organizations have tallied more than 250 extrajudicial killings and more than 1,200 forced disappearances in the last year alone. The Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Torture documented more than 600 cases of torture in 2015.
Sisi helped orchestrate an attack that left more than 800 Muslim Brotherhood supporters dead as he moved to the country’s helm, according to a Human Rights Watch investigation. Since then, mass arrests have essentially replaced mass protests in the country.
One of Sisi’s first orders of business after assuming power was to instate harsh laws which effectively banned public protests. Those who do participate in protests could face up to seven years in prison if the demonstration is deemed violent. Anyone who attends an unauthorized protest could be fined $1,500 — a sum that equal several months’ pay for most Egyptians.
‘Don’t Lead Us Astray’
Last year, in a speech on Egypt’s Police Day — the day that protests began in Tahrir Square five years ago — Sisi derided protesters.
“Take care when you are demanding your rights, take care, don’t lead us astray with you,” he told an audience of police officers, before suggesting that the right to public assembly detracted from core issues of alleviating poverty and providing healthcare.
“I’m not saying protesting is rejected, no, I’m just saying we have given protests a certain standing that is, appreciated, but those 90 million want to eat, drink, live and feel secure about their future,” he added. “Where is the citizen we are educating well, that we can provide good healthcare to,that we can prepare for the workplace, aren’t these rights? Are you reducing the rights of the people to voicing their opinions? Keeping in mind that we are leaving everyone to say what they want.”
Four Years Later, Egypt’s Revolution Is In A ComaWorld CREDIT: AP CAIRO, EGYPT – Outside a café in a Cairo neighborhood named for famed Egyptian revolutionary Saad…thinkprogress.orgEgyptians who “say what they want” risk very real repercussions — especially in a climate where Sisi has emboldened police to believe that protesters are attempting to lead the country “astray.”
According to Mohamad Elmasry of the University of North Alabama, Sisi’s authoritarian tactics have deterred protesters from taking the streets as they did to check both Mubarak and Morsi after him.
“The violence seems to have worked,” he wrote in a recent Al Jazeera op-ed. “Fear has reduced the size and frequency of anti-coup protests. Even when protests have been launched, security forces have set up security walls to prevent dissenters from gathering in large squares, and the government has effectively banned television coverage of marches. These measures ensure that a spectacle — the kind that galvanized the opposition in 2011 — doesn’t take place.”
Thousands of doctors defied the anti-protest laws and risked a violent crackdown when they took to the streets of downtown Cairo in a rare demonstration in February.
“If it weren’t for the security cameras, I wouldn’t have managed to prove my case when police officers took me away,” said Momen Zakariya, one of two doctors who were assaulted by police officers after they refused to falsify medical reports.
Zakariya has called for a ban on entry of any armed person into hospitals “so I [won’t] be surprised by a knife pointed at my back or a gun at my head.”
According to a leader in the doctors’ syndicate that organized the demonstration, their actions were meant to ensure that the police officers be tried for attacking Zakaria and his colleague.
The impunity police officers and security officials enjoy after carrying out violent attacks is at the heart of Egyptians’ frustrations with their increasingly authoritarian state.
The issue of accountability came to a head in February after a 24-year-old taxi driver was shot and killed by a police officer in a low-income part of Cairo. While the Cairo Security Directorate called the killing a “mistake,” witnesses said the officer drew a gun and shot after he disputed the fare the taxi driver demanded.
Following the incident, Sisi said that he will introduce new laws to curb police abuse within 15 days, but he has yet to do so.