During the early days of the Egyptian revolution, I returned to the old Doomspirals houseboat to chat with our friend Mohamed, the bowwab (doorman, groundskeeper). I asked Mohamed who was living here now, and in a hushed tone he confided that the Police Chief of Waraq (the agricultural island just to the north) was hiding out on the boat—a guest of our landlord. In response to decades of maltreatment, the residents of Waraq had torched the police station, and the police chief was on the lam.
The Waraq police station has been back in the news lately for—guess what—police torture. From Al-Ahram:
According to Sameh’s brother, Abd El-Mohsen Farrag, Sameh [a 48 year-old clothes merchant from Imbaba] visited Al-Waraq police station on Tuesday to enquire about a friend who had been detained there.
Police later visited Farag’s family home and asked them to receive Sameh’s dead body from the Imbaba public hospital.
Upon their arrival, Farag’s family found Sameh’s body half naked with a swollen face, handcuff marks around his wrists and bloodstains on his feet.
A classic incident. A man—who is not even implicated in a crime—visits a local police station. And for meddling in police business receives the typical police treatment. If this follows the standard script to the end, the police will claim that Sameh was a drug dealer who tried to assault the officers.
Have you been following the latest violent developments in Port Said? The war between the people and the police-state? The trigger was the recent court verdict that sentenced 21 Port Said men to death for their involvement in last year’s Port Said Stadium Tragedy (in which 70+ fans from Cairo died in a horrific rampage). In a good video interview on the NYT our friend David Kirkpatrick explains that the court ruling is seen in Port Said as biased & politically motivated—levied to appease to the Cairo streets. But there is another, larger framework, too. Remember that the police are blamed (rightly or wrongly) in Port Said for the stadium deaths. And now 21 Port Said residents have been sentenced to the noose, whereas no police officers have been charged for any crimes (of negligence or otherwise). This is a toxic situation. In the two days following the verdict, 30 young men died (including a man in a wheelchair) in clashes with the Port Said police. And now—in this city where the courts are viewed as an appendage of the police state—the question is: you still demand 21 more bodies?
In response to recent chaos, President Morsi has called (feebly) for a ‘national dialogue’. Reportedly, a component of this dialogue will be a study committee dedicated to security. One wonders if the deep dysfunction of the security state will be meaningfully addressed. The reconciliation between the people & the police is fundamental to the future stability of Egypt. More violence—the Mubarak solution—is not the answer.
p.s. Overlapping the police narrative, is the related issue of Port Said as a flashpoint in the wider federalism debate in Egypt—where all sate power resides in Cairo and the rights of the periphery remain, well, peripheral. For a nice look at the marginalization of the Sinai, check this short documentary produced by our pal Anjali Kamat for Al-Jazeera.
p.p.s. did you see this incredible photo of the protests in downtown Cairo?