By Ernesto Londoño
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, February 23, 2011; 10:49 AM
CAIRO - Former Egyptian police officers who have been demonstrating for days in an attempt to get their jobs back set fire to parts of Egypt's Interior Ministry on Wednesday, after soldiers tried to move them away from the building.
The arson suggested that the unrest unleashed by a wave of demonstrations that toppled President Hosni Mubarak on Feb. 11 is far from over.
Witnesses said a group of approximately 50 former police officers became irate when soldiers tried to move them from in front of the ministry, where many have been demonstrating for days.
"It started with a conflict between the army and the demonstrators," Eid Abd al-Aziz Abdullah, a witness, said. "Some ran away, but about 50 charged toward the building."
The demonstrators set roughly half a dozen vehicles parked outside the ministry on fire. They then lobbed molotov cocktails toward the offices in where personnel records are kept, witnesses said.
The damage to certain areas appeared considerable. Several windows were smashed. But much of the large, sand-colored building was spared.
Firefighters arrived at the scene about 2 p.m., roughly an hour after the blaze began, witnesses said.
The protesters seemed to be reacting to a decision, announced last week, that police fired over the past year would be rehired as part of the democratization of Egypt. The officers seemed partly motivated by a desire to destroy personnel files, so it would be hard to tell which officers had been fired when.
Witnesses and former police officers said that roughly 20,000 officers fired over the years have been trying to get their jobs back since Mubarak was ousted.
"This was done to us by unfair supervisors," said Ayman Ahmed el-Hussaini, who said he lost his police position in 1990 after reporting poor conditions at a prison. "We're trying to get rehired."
The Interior Ministry is near Tahrir Square, the downtown plaza that became the main battleground for activists demanding Mubarak's ouster. Since the protests began late last month, Egyptians from all walks of life, long terrified of speaking out in a repressive state that had zero tolerance for dissent, have taken to voicing a long list of grievances.