Police begin open-ended strike, call for interior minister to resign

Thousands of low-ranking policemen started a general strike on Monday across Egypt, demanding the resignation of Interior Minister Mansour al-Essawy, the removal from the ministry of corrupt officers affiliated with the former regime, and an end to military trials for policemen.

Protests occurred in the governorates of Cairo, Red Sea, Daqahlyia, Monofyia and Upper Egypt.

In Cairo, approximately 3000 protesting police officers gathered outside the Interior Ministry’s headquarters, where they were joined by ministry employees with similar demands. They say they plan to hold an open-ended sit-in in front of the ministry.

The protesters chanted, “Leave, unjust minister!” and “We’re not going, he is going!” echoing the protests against former President Hosni Mubarak that drove him from power last winter.

According to protest organizers, they have been threatened with arrest and physical harm by officials inside the ministry, but they will continue their sit-in nonetheless.

The striking police officers are demanding that Essawy – himself a former police general – be sacked and that he be replaced with a civilian minister who will not simply be loyal to senior police officers. Essawy was previously an assistant minister of interior during the Mubarak regime.

Protesters complained of corruption inside the ministry and favoritism given to high-ranking officers at their expense.

“Essawy is Habib al-Adly,” said Fekry Abdel Ghani, the elected head of the Coalition of Ministry of Interior Workers, referring to Mubarak’s former interior minister, who is now being tried on charges of killing protesters during the 25 January revolution.

“Adly’s officers are still here as if the revolution never reached the Ministry of Interior. We demand that the ministry be purged of Adly’s generals, who eat away at the rights and money of policemen,” Abdel Ghani said.

According to the protesting policemen, previous promises of pay raises were never realized because more senior police officers stole the money.

“The ministry is full of money. We are not demanding an increase in wages from the Ministry of Finance. We need the money allocated to the Interior Ministry to be fairly distributed,” said Nazek Bakr Shaaban, a policeman from Daqahilya Governorate.

Policemen also complained at the lack of health care provision, claiming that police hospitals are exclusively for top police officers, their families and friends, while they have to pay their own health care expenses.

In what is apparently a move to ingratiate themselves with the public at large, police are also using the protest to voice concerns about more general demands. Some protesters mentioned the lack of security in the country and blamed it on the officers who belong to the old regime. 

“Police officers treat us as slaves. They give us instructions to mistreat the people in the street,” said Ashraf Abu Shosha, a policeman at the Maadi police station in Cairo.

Abu Shosha added that officers affiliated with the old regime pressure eyewitnesses to change their stances in the trials of officers implicated in killing protesters during the revolution.

According to the policemen, some of them are required to work unarmed, hindering their ability to protect the population.

The striking policemen denounced military trials for policemen, saying that they were the main reason why policemen had to blindly follow orders to shoot protesters during the uprising.

More than 12,000 civilians have been subjected to military trials since the military took control of Egypt in February. The previous interim interior minister canceled military trials for police, but they were re-imposed when Essawy took power in March.

“When military rule is imposed on me, I have to obey without questioning. I can never say no to an officer when I see him mistreating or torturing a citizen, because I am afraid I will be sent to a military trial and thrown in prison,” said Mohamed Abbas, media spokesperson for the General Coalition of Policemen, an unofficial organizing group for policemen.

Policemen staged a protest eight months ago in February, also demanding higher pay and better working conditions, but the protest was dispersed by military forces. They say their demands have still not been met, which is the reason why they decided to escalate the protest to a strike today.

The Ministry of Interior has not released a statement in response to the strike.

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