Restrained repression: Are al-Sisi’s police preparing to withdraw?

September 26, 2019

Egyptian police violence against demonstrators appears to be at its lowest level in more than six years as thousands of Egyptians demonstrate in various Egyptian cities to demand General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi stand down.

Egyptian police used tear gas canisters and fired cartridges and rubber bullets at protesters and arrested dozens of demonstrators and beat others with batons. The day after Friday’s demonstrations, there were reports of the release of some of those arrested.

During the demonstrations that followed the overthrow of the first elected civilian president on July 3, Egyptian police shot at demonstrators, killing hundreds and injuring thousands.

The number of detainees in Egyptian prisons has reached more than 60,000, according to human rights organisations. Most of them have been imprisoned for more than three years on charges of protesting.

Despite the violence and abuse carried out by Egyptian police against peaceful protesters on September 20 and 21, this is the lowest level of violence and repression seen since July 3, 2013.

In fact, the era of General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has never seen such low-level violence.

The level of human rights abuses carried out by police during these demonstrations are almost identical to the level carried out on January 25, 2011, when Egyptian police fired tear gas canisters, beat protesters with batons and detained them for days.

In fact, that level of violence was the prelude to a police withdrawal after three days of clashes. On January 28, 2011, police withdrew from confrontations with protesters after massive clashes. Later, Egyptian Interior Ministry forces withdrew from almost all of their positions, including prisons, traffic lights and police stations.

The “restrained repression” of January 25, 2011, was a prelude to police separation from the regime of President Hosni Mubarak, who appeared to be in his final days.

On February 11, 2011, Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman announced that Mubarak had decided to step down. After the departure of Mubarak, the police returned to work gradually.

The Ministry of Interior repeatedly stated that the police have learned the lesson well, that they will fulfill their duty to maintain security and pursue criminals, and that they will not play a political role in suppressing the people in favour of the regime.

But after July 2013, Egypt’s police service became more brutal and launched mass arrests, and attacked pro-Morsi demonstrations with excessive violence.

It can be said that the police appeared in September 2019 at a level close to the January 2011 presence, which has prompted observers to question whether al-Sisi’s police were preparing for a withdrawal similar to what happened in the last days of Mubarak’s rule.

Observers say that many Egyptian police officers are afraid of widespread public anger and expect the regime to fall and try them for their abuses.

Over the past two years, demonstrations have completely disappeared from the streets in Egypt because of the brutal repression of the Egyptian police.

The Egyptian regime considers this a sign of stability in the country, while opponents said it was because of the wall of fear built by the regime.

In recent days, Egyptian entrepreneur Mohamed Ali has published videos of corruption and the waste of of public money involving al-Sisi, his wife and senior members of the armed forces. This corruption included building hotels and presidential palaces that cost billions of pounds at a time when the Egyptian people are suffering from severe economic austerity.

This information sparked widespread public outrage on social networking sites, and thousands of Egyptians responded to calls to demonstrate. The disclosure of spending billions of pounds on building palaces and creating unprofitable projects coincided with poor living conditions for Egyptian families.