Back to reality

2011-03-12 00:00

CAIRO — The former security police pose a problem for the people, but at the same time Egypt needs the police to protect them against terrorism and problems from outside.

This is how Mohammed*, a bus driver, sums up some of the dilemmas the country is facing as it tries to get back on track again.

Barely three weeks after the fall of former president Hosni Mubarak, the capital city is a hustle-bustle of traffic and hooters, just as it was before.

The only visible signs that everything is not yet 100% normal are the tanks parked at key points in the city.

There are few signs of tourists, who used to contribute 80% of the country’s foreign income.

The ferries on the Nile River are deserted, as are the luxury hotels nearby.

But while the outside world is still carefully watching to see what will be happening in the country next, foreigners are being heartily welcomed.

There is a congenial atmosphere and the Egyptians are quite happy to speak about their “revolution”. They don’t mind at all that the military generals are now the interim government. They are relieved that Mubarak’s feared security police are no longer restricting and destroying their lives.

The roughly 600 000-strong police force is functioning quietly, but their leadership is the subject of a thorough investigation that is likely to last years rather than months.

Mohammed, an elderly man who served in the defence force for about 20 years, says the ordinary police are not a source of concern. It is the 6 000 security police whom Mubarak used as his personal force to control people and threats in his country.

Like the Stasi of old in the former East Germany, relatives and friends spied on one another — not because they wanted to, but because they were threatened by the security police.

But at the height of the revolution at the end of February came the shift of power. Mohammed says many of the police commanders have already been arrested, while others are not risking it on the streets.

In many respects their fate is similar to that of Mubarak, who is hiding in Sharm el Sheikh, the country’s most popular tourist destination. His foreign assets have been frozen and the search is now on for where he may have stashed alleged billions from the country’s coffers for his own gain.

Close to Tahrir Square lie the charred remains of what were once Mubarak’s offices. They were burnt down by angry protesters.

Some of the “witnesses” now providing new ammunition and information about Mubarak and his inner circle’s misdeeds are among the prisoners released during the revolution. Many of them were jailed because they knew too much and therefore posed a threat to Mubarak.

But a few thousand criminals escaped along with them and are now contributing to making Cairo’s streets unsafe at night.

A cordon of tanks completely surrounds the United States embassy and the soldiers are armed to the teeth. Later in the evening an inhabitant is seen chatting to some tank personnel.

Parked near Tahrir Square are some municipal trucks, with workers repairing broken water pipes nearby. Among them two uniformed soldiers labour away just as hard.

“See,” Mohammed indicates, “everyone is now working together to make the country nice again so that the tourists can return.

“But we still need some of the security police as well, because with many of them not working now, our country is exposed to the danger of terrorists slipping in.

“Serious conditions are going to have to be laid down now that the generals have to think seriously about the future of these people, but as much as we hate them, we also need them.

“It’s difficult, but our new-found freedom has also made us vulnerable.”

*Name has been changed.

Erika Gibson was in Cairo on the way to Libya with a relief team from Gift of the Givers.

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