A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Egyptian Cadets Attack Police

Hmm . . . this story from BBC (another version from AP here) (and cell phone camera footage, with captions in Arabic, here) raises a lot of questions. Rivalry between the Egyptian Army and the police is one of the most sensitive issues in the country; each service is protective of its own. Back in 1986, when the Central Security Forces rioted, the Army was called in, one of the relatively rare times the Army has been used for internal law enforcement (the 1977 bread riots, and immediately after the Luxor tourist killings of 1997 are others). Generally the Interior Ministry, which runs the police, and the Defense Ministry with the armed forces are separate domains.

What seems to have happened here is cadets from the military academy decided to revenge themselves for police mistreatment of one of their own. That tells you a couple of things: a) the resentment of heavy-handed police bullying is not just limited to the civilian population, and b) the Army takes care of its own. The implications, however, are serious; as the BBC report notes, the incident suggests the further deterioration of the social fabric, along with all the labor unrest.

What also deserves comment, I think, is the fact that the government sternly ordered the press, including the independent press, to refrain from any mention of the incident, yet the videos are online already. It's a reminder that government security men have yet to come to terms with cell phone cameras and video sharing media. The days when a government could keep this sort of news from leaking are gone, except in countries like Saddam's Iraq or North Korea where computer ownership was tightly regulated.

No comments: