Amid hype over constitution, Egypt's police brace for the worst

Tue Jan 14, 2014 8:39am EST
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By Maggie Fick

MANSOURA, Egypt (Reuters) - As Egyptians vote in a constitutional referendum meant to help bring stability, policemen such as Brigadier-General Sayed Emara have good reason to dig in for more bloodshed.

He lost colleagues and friends last month, when a suicide bomber in a car ripped open a five-story building where security officials in the Nile Delta city of Mansoura worked. Seventeen people, most of them police, were killed.

The next day, the government declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group, encouraging policemen, who are frequently targeted, to harden their positions against the movement which says the army and security forces robbed it of power.

"It's not a war out in the open, that you can fight straight on, no, it comes after you in your house when you are with your family, or in your car or while you are walking on the street or working in your office," Emara told Reuters.

While much of the world's attention has focused on a security crackdown on Islamists in the struggle between the Brotherhood and the army-backed government, killing and detaining thousands, Egypt's police have also paid a high price.

At least 250 of them have been killed in militant attacks since army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi deposed the elected Islamist president, Mohamed Mursi, in July - provoking a public reaction almost inconceivable just three years ago.

In the 1990s, another period when Islamist militants were attacking security forces, Egyptians would have had little sympathy for the police, often accused of corruption and brutality.

Security forces and police were put on the defensive after the popular uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011. Many simply took off their uniforms and vanished.   Continued...

Women queue outside a polling centre to vote in a referendum on Egypt's new constitution in Cairo, January 14, 2014. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany