The violence that has seized Egypt since late last month is, to many,
sadly familiar: Angry young men provoke police, police respond with
excessive force. Both sides are counted among the dead and wounded, as
But it was the image of one protester, broadcast live last week, which
renewed outrage in a country long used to police brutality.
In the video, 48-year-old Hamada Saber is stripped naked, kicked and
beaten by police outside the presidential palace.
At first, after being taken into custody, Saber said it was protesters
who beat him. The police, he said from a police hospital bed, had helped
him. But Saber later recanted, blaming police for the beating.
Saber's hospital statement brought to mind countless cases of police
coercion, part of a larger system of injustice that helped fuel Egypt's
uprising two years ago.
“This oppressive apparatus has not changed a bit, at all," said
political activist and blogger Wael Khalil. "I mean, it is working with
the same rule book. It is still untouchable. No one is accountable."
The interior minister warned that without the police, Egypt could become
a militia-state, like some of its neighbors.
But in a rare move from on high, President Mohamed Morsi's office has
promised an investigation into the beating.
The president's supporters say there is a sincere drive to overhaul the
A senior official of the Muslim Brotherhood's political party, Amr
Darrag, said they inherited a system whose role was to protect the
government from opposition.
“We are going in the right direction, but still there is a lot for the
police force to learn and to get rehabilitated to deal with that,”
how much influence Morsi has or is willing to use is unclear. Interior
Ministry reform has been slow — even as simple a change as emphasizing
riot control over confrontation.
One opponent of the president mocked his apparent inability to control
the police, in a message on Twitter.
“The only thing worse than a dictator” he wrote, “is a dictator who
But even as Egypt's police are heavy-handed in some crowds, they are
absent in others.
In Cairo's Tahrir Square, violence has increased — in particular, the
sexual assault of women by mobs of men. Only civilian volunteers — not
police — are trying to protect them.