A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, January 25, 2010

Egyptian Police Day

I comment about Egypt so often that I really don't need another post, but today was Police Day, which this year has been promoted from an observation mainly celebrated by the Police to a national holiday with banks closed etc. on a par with Armed Forces Day. A lot of bloggers aren't too happy about the promotion of Police Day; Bikya Masr here and The Arabist here for two in English. And some wry reflections at The Guardian.

Now Police Day has been around; it commemorates the battle between Egyptian police and British forces in Ismailia in 1952, when the resistance of the national Police became a symbol of resistance to Britain's continued presence in the Canal Zone; the next day, January 26, was Black Saturday, when Shepheard's Hotel, the Turf Club, and other British landmarks were attacked. It was the beginning of the troubles that would lead to the July Revolution.

But Police Day has been around; it just wasn't a formal, first-rank holiday when schools and banks were closed until this year. Today the Police — particularly those under the aegis of State Security Investigations — are no longer viewed as the symbol of national resistance to foreign rule. So needless to say many commenters are suggesting that making Police Day a first-level national holiday at this moment in time suggests that the government is celebrating not the Police, but a Police State. Mubarak has used the occasion to come down hard on Hamas and defend Egypt's wall in Gaza.

But there could be a subtext here as well: With Mubarak's age and the anticipation of a succession, the state may well be reminding the citizenry that the Police still have things under control. It could also very well be, with many people talking about a military figure as an alternative to Gamal Mubarak, a reminder that the Interior Ministry is often played off against the military. General Habib El Adly, the Interior Minister, has held his post since 1997, longer than a great many of his predecessors.

Still, the Police of today are being given a higher-profile holiday in commemoration of a moment 57 years ago when the police briefly became the rallying symbol of Egyptian independence. Would that they enjoyed (or, alas, deserved) the same reputation today.

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