Morsi has three elements to base his power on. The Muslim Brotherhood’s membership. Obama’s support. And the police. If the police go, then Egypt is likely to degenerate into a series of violent clashes between Islamists and protesters. And that will destroy Obama’s support.
The Egyptian police are continuing to grow restless.
Thousands of low-ranking policemen on strike across Egypt on Thursday refused orders to work and protested what they claim is the politicization of the force in favor of the president’s Muslim Brotherhood party.
The strike, in its fourth day, is a rare show of defiance by policemen against their superiors. It threatens to unravel a security force already weakened by two years of unrest following the ouster of longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
In Cairo, dozens of policemen blocked the entrance to one of the city’s main police stations and expressed anger at Morsi’s policies. Others held a sit-in outside Morsi’s house in his hometown of Zagazig, northeast of the capital.
South of the capital, in Assiut and Luxor, policemen protested what they say is new Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim’s attempts to use the force to protect the Brotherhood.
Morsi has tried to pay off the police, but as long as tensions continue, then the police are in control and they can always strike for more.
Low-ranking police officers, however, staged a nationwide strike last month, calling for the removal of new Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim and accusing Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood of using them as shock troops to suppress public dissent. Officers rebuked the Brotherhood for attempting to exert influence over their ranks. Some police withdrew from protests at the presidential palace in December rather than confront demonstrators — a surreal scene that never would have happened under Mubarak.
The Interior Ministry calmed the strike by promising to buy 100,000 new 9-millimeter automatic pistols for police, who are increasingly outgunned by criminal gangs. Human rights groups worry the new weapons will give officers loyal to Ibrahim, who is perceived as a Morsi ally, more lethal firepower against protesters.
“We want peace in the streets and respect,” said Naqeeb Awel Mohamed, a cop in Imbaba for 13 years. “I can’t have citizens raising weapons in my face. That’s unacceptable. There are too many guns and too much chaos. The people are furious over inflation and unemployment. This comes out toward the police, but in reality we are the same as the people.”
He added: “I made 500 pounds [about $75] a month under Mubarak. I now earn 1,500 pounds. I live two hours away in the countryside. I have only a high school diploma. What else can I do? There is nothing else.”
The police in much of the Muslim world are not a law enforcement body, they protect the regime. The more unpopular the regime, the more the police are needed. Mubarak fell into that pattern and now Morsi is being swallowed by it.