A series of clashes between anti-Islamist protesters and police that began on the second anniversary of Egypt’s revolt has snowballed into a much broader tide of anger toward the police force. Opposition leaders and rights groups say police used excessive force over 10 days of clashes that left more than 60 people dead across the country.
Two recent incidents have fanned the flames of popular dissent. And rights groups and analysts warn that if police reform does not come soon, the force’s brutal tactics are likely to spur more clashes in a cycle that could prove deeply destabilizing as Egypt struggles to regain its pre-revolution calm.
The death on Sunday of Mohammed el-Gindy, a member of the opposition Popular Current party, has driven some of that rage. Gindy’s colleagues said the 28-year-old was tortured to death in police custody after disappearing from a protest Jan. 27.
Sayed Shafiq, the head of investigations at the Interior Ministry, said that Gindy was hit by a car and that his body was found “far away from the area of the clashes,” citing hospital sources.
But Gindy’s ribs and skull had been smashed, and his back and tongue bore the burns of electrical shocks, a party spokesperson said Monday, citing Gindy’s autopsy report. His case follows three deaths by torture since Morsi came to power in June, according to a report on police abuse released last month by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), a Cairo-based watchdog group.
Gindy’s death came two days after Egyptian satellite television channels broadcast the live beating of a naked protester by police during clashes outside the presidential palace, sparking a public outcry.
Morsi called the episode “shocking,” and the Interior Ministry vowed to investigate, saying in a statement Saturday that it “regrets” the incident but that “what took place was carried out by individuals that do not, in any way, represent the doctrine of all policemen.”
Morsi, who served time in jail under Mubarak as a member of the then-banned Muslim Brotherhood, vowed during his presidential campaign to reform the security forces and seek justice for those who suffered at their hands, including about 800 people who died in the 18-day uprising in 2011.
“Human dignity was one of the main things that caused the revolution,” said Mona Makram-Ebeid, a liberal member of parliament and vocal opposition lawmaker. “People will always find something to eat in Egypt. And social justice will eventually come. But human dignity is what all Egyptians were longing for.”
But Morsi’s failure to follow through has underscored the obstacles to turning a new page after decades of authoritarian policing. Egypt’s Interior Ministry encompasses forces ranging from riot police and state security officers to traffic cops and plainclothes detectives, and is estimated to employ hundreds of thousands of people, most in need of extensive training.