The mandate to act against violence

Please note, opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent Egyptian Streets’ editorial policy.

Nasr Road littered with ‘barricades’ after clashes kill 74 near a large pro-Morsi demonstration

On an almost regular basis, a teenager is killed by police officers in the United States and other countries. Police often claim that the dead suspect was carrying a weapon, acting in a suspicious manner, and threatened the armed policemen.

Police men (if even charged) are often found not guilty as they acted in ‘self-defence’.

When I attended a protest at an Egyptian Embassy abroad in 2011, a police officer on the scene told me how,  if any individual – a protester or not – approached a police officer with even a rock in his hand, the police had the right to shoot him.  

That brings us to Egypt, the scene of violent protests since the toppling of Islamist president Mohammed Morsi.

On July 8, 51 Morsi supporters and three soldiers and police officers were killed in violence that broke out at the Republican Guard Headquarters, the headquarters of a military division whose main responsibility is to defend major government and strategic industrial institutions.

Yet the violence at the Republican Guard was merely a prelude of events to come. Less than three weeks later, at least 74 were killed and hundreds injured at Nasr Road – where former President Anwar Al-Sadat was assassinated by Islamist militants.

The scene outside the Republican Guard after clashes between the Military and Morsi supporters

As with previous incidents, Egypt’s Interim government and the Muslim Brotherhood traded blame for the violence. Still, it was the Military’s defence following the attacks on the Republican Guard that will – and should – continue to resonate in each Egyptian’s mind: the law (both local and international) grants security forces the right to defend military institutions and themselves, especially after being attacked.

The Military’s spokesperson stated that despite attempts to incite violence against the Military – and despite the fact that the law states that individuals may not gather or threaten military institutions – the Military continued to allow protesters to demonstrate and surround military institutions and personnel.

Essentially, what this meant was that Egypt’s military was allowing demonstrations outside vital institutions, but would take all necessary action once it was attacked, or felt that suspicious behavior could lead to a security breach.

The fact of the matter is, the Military did not open fire on a peaceful demonstration on July 8. The Military reacted to a threat – in a similar way to how police officers and security services all across the globe react to threats.

The Muslim Brotherhood claimed the Military opened fire on Morsi supporters as they prayed, yet footage has shown those same supporters carrying firearms, Molotov cocktails, knives, and other weaponry.

The story would have been different of course had the Military opened fire on un-armed protesters or civilians: attending a peaceful demonstration with a weapon – with the intention of potentially using it against someone – immediately discredits the ‘peaceful’ nature of that demonstration.

Still, the police opened fire on a crowd of unarmed, peaceful Morsi supporters on July 26. Right?

Unfortunately, that does not seem to be the case. Video from shortly before the police first fired tear-gas at a large crowd of approaching Morsi supporters who were chanting “We will not go back!” showed various supporters carrying long, sharp weapons, stones, and other dangerous items.

Fireworks are set off near police and anti-Morsi protesters by supporters of deposed president Morsi on Nasr Road near Rabaa

Clashes continued for hours following the initial tear-gas, leading to the deaths of at least 74 Morsi supporters. Though the Ministry of Interior denied using live ammunition against the protesters, footage clearly showed that they did fire live bullets at the Morsi supporters. And they had a right to do so.

Why do the police not simply fire tear-gas, rubber bullets, and practice other riot-control methods? Because the protesters they are dealing with were not unarmed.

From individuals wearing gas-masks to wade the effects of the tear gas, to those carrying makeshift shotguns, it becomes clear that the police on the scene are faced with a threat that surpasses any riot control tactics. Police men on the ground – many of whom who are there to simply do their job and earn a minimum wage – are likely considering one thing: if I do not fight back, will I die?

Police officers pictured aiming rifles during clashes at Nasr Road

Nevertheless, there needs to be limits to how far police action can go. Randomly firing live ammunition at a large group of demonstrators instead of attempting to target those carrying weapons or cause a threat, can lead to the loss of many innocent lives.

Moreover, allowing opponents of Morsi and plain-clothed police to “fight-back” against armed Morsi supporters is incorrect and should be condemned. Allowing civilians to fire at Morsi supporters (and protecting them) is as bad –if not worse – than the Morsi supporters attacking the police.

As activists, the media, government officials, and opposition figures continue to trade blame, we must remember the mandate that security forces have to defend themselves and state institutions. Yet, though the police may have a mandate to ‘defend themselves’ against ‘threatening’ demonstrators, we must also remember that this mandate can often be unjust.


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7 Comments on The mandate to act against violence

  1. I don’t know how one can gage where a shot is coming from in a large crowd of people (who are chanting slogans of bad intent). Whether American, French or Egyptian I would gather human nature does not change in regards to someone shooting at you from an angry crowd. I wouldn’t want to experience this myself. But one thing I would expect that once I found myself a target, I might react in a defensive manner or even a panic. One never knows how they will react under extreme pressure until it comes upon them. I can’t imagine that there would be time for a “talk it out” session.


  2. that’s just Muslims brotherhood way to win the sympathize of the western and European world by trading with children. and all the Egyptian people are withe the revolution and against terrorism of the Muslims brotherhood .


  3. For the record, in America, police are only suppose to fire their arms if the citizen is armed and affecting possible damage to himself/herself or others. This does not hold true lately, as the police are becoming more and more military in response and reaction because of the Patriot Act. The majority of Americans are no longer sure if the Patriot Act is anything but a rue to dismantle the Bill of Rights and support and defend the corporate state. We suggest to citizens – Egyptians especially – to use their cell phones to record any disturbance. Evidence is then obvious and neither media hyped nor re-ordered for falsified dissemination. Live streaming is the citizenry responding at the scene reporting the events as they actually occur instead of relying on what is told. Twittering is a viable mechanical choice also if video is including and not altered.


  4. Just a comment I agree with the article, the picture of the police officer though is incorrect, this person was arrested for wearing police uniform and he wasn’t a police officer.


  5. Salah ad Din // July 28, 2013 at 2:53 pm // Reply

    You forget the army and police thugs are terrorists outlaws fighting civilian supporters of the legitimate government. So they are criminal traitors and should be hanged, so as the author of this despicable “justification” of murder and terrorism


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