-Taken from the Guardian's 'Comment is Free'
-Cairo - January 2010
Happy Police Day! For those not lucky enough to be familiar with Egypt's annual jamboree celebrating the world's most prestigious cops, concerned Egyptian citizens – eager to ensure you make the most of this public holiday – have issued a checklist of essential Police Day merchandise that every reveller should be sporting.
1. A history lesson – It's important to know the origins of today's festivities, which lie in a murderous attack by British forces on a police station in the canal city of Ismailia on 25 January 1952. Over 50 men were killed, sparking anti-British riots across the country; six months later Nasser led his Free Officers to revolution. This was the moment when Egypt's police force established itself as a heroic emblem of resistance against foreign occupation, and the words Al-shurta fi khidmat al-shaab, or "The police are at the service of the people" soon become emblazoned on every police station wall.
2. Some appreciation – Sadly, half a century on from that fateful January, it has become customary for some sections of the population to no longer view their neighbourhood bobbies with the adoration of old. Reports have been circulating of a few ungrateful individuals displaying symptoms of fear, contempt and mockery in their presence, even accusing the force of having been transformed into nothing more than a bullying vassal for an unpopular and undemocratic regime who consistently subvert the rule of law to preserve their own political power. Such sentiments are unwelcome on Police Day – in the unlikely event that you encounter an officer at one of this afternoon's many scheduled protests against police brutality, try offering up a smile and a friendly "thank you" instead.
3. Teabags – Unfortunately refreshments will not be provided at this year's celebrations, and you are encouraged to bring your own. Please remember to buy any hot drinks or snacks legally and not purloin them on the sly, as 13-year-old Muhammad Abdel Aziz allegedly did two years ago. After being detained by police for six days he was released with burn marks over his flesh and a hole in his back; he died four days later in a public hospital after claiming he had been electrocuted by officers. Thankfully as a result of the scandal a strong public message was sent out regarding the immorality of stealing food; incidentally, under the current government one in three Egyptian children suffer from malnutrition.
4. A mobile phone camera – Probably the single most useful item on the checklist if you are planning to spend any time enjoying the hospitality of the constabulary, as they are currently trying to expand their YouTube presence. As well as a 13-minute clip detailing the abuse of Muhammad Abdel Aziz, above, other popular highlights have included the sexual assault of Emad al-Kebir, a 22-year-old microbus driver who tried to intervene in an argument between his cousin and a police officer and who for his troubles was sodomised with a stick, hit with a pair of shoes and whipped, and an infamous video from Wael Abbas's blog showing a man in police custody being repeatedly slapped. Those thinking of shooting their own films are encouraged to seek inspiration from the Torture in Egypt and Piggipedia websites.
5. Bulletproof vests – Any party-goers planning to question the benevolent rule of President Hosni Mubarak or the ruling NDP party on this special occasion are advised to equip themselves with some unobtrusive body armour. Up to four individuals were killed during an attempted strike and anti-government demonstrations in the textile town of Mahalla al-Kubra in April 2008, including a 15-year-old boy who was shot dead by police when he stepped out onto his balcony to see what was happening. Please note this suggestion is not only limited to political protestors; the number of communities for whom bulletproof undergarments are strongly recommended rose sharply in November 2008 after police shootings involving taxi drivers (one was shot in the head after insulting a policeman), coffee-shop patrons (one was killed by shots to the stomach after intervening in a fight between his brother and policeman), and bird-sellers (one was shot dead after a botched drugs raid in Aswan).
6. A good book – Police Day isn't all merriness and play: it can involve enforced relaxation sessions, often in a cell. Pass the time with a light read – particularly commended for this purpose is Omar Afifi's So You Don't Get Hit on the Back of Your Head, an explosive publication from a former senior official at the interior ministry who decided to stand up to the growing wave of violent police coercion on the streets by revealing in print what legal steps citizens could take to protect themselves. "The police violate human rights in a systemic manner in order to terrify the people and prevent them from claiming their basic rights," says Afifi, who is presently enjoying a prolonged break abroad. "The violations perpetrated by the police depend primarily on people's ignorance about their legal rights." You may have to hunt around for the publication; for reasons as yet unspecified it has been removed from bookshelves by state security and is no longer on sale.
7. Bricks (or tyres) – The final ingredient for a successful Police Day can be adapted according to local circumstances. In Ezbet al-Haggana, a poor informal quarter in north-eastern Cairo, residents found pieces of masonry to be the most effective aid when it came to reasoning with a police squadron who had come to demolish their houses, allegedly at the behest of a rich government crony who wanted to develop the land for commercial use. The result of this friendly misunderstanding can be seen here – particular attention should be paid to the speed at which the armed police retire from the area and bunker down in their police station, politely spurred on by affable locals. In the Sinai, the object of choice during similar incidents is a mountain of car tyres, preferably aflame. Just such a construction was recently pressed into use as a visual illustration for the benefit of police, who had hitherto failed to grasp the mild absurdity of Egypt's government refusing to send aid to the victims of freak flooding in the region, but instead ordering in the long arm of the law, who attempted to assist wet, hungry and homeless residents with truncheons and riot shields.
Remember that while Police Day is fun for all the family, it is a rash hedonist indeed who steps outside without the above essentials. Enjoy the party and please – do feel free to post any reports of jollity to the relevant authorities.