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Media Impact on Police-Community Relationship

Egyptian media has typically portrayed police officers in a negative light. The ruling regime’s control over the cinematic industry and media in general perpetuated the negative image of the police, furthering the deep enmity between the institution and the people. It is notable that under Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar Sadat, and then Mubarak, each regime supported and encouraged filmmakers to address the violations of its predecessor, at times in an exaggerated manner. Moreover, several Egyptian cinematic works have tarnished the image of security bodies even during the Mubarak era. Movies were used as a tool to denounce Mubarak’s brutality as subtly as possible.39 These films criticized security practices under Nasser’s regime to expose its flaws. The most important and most famous of these films, which are also most influential in the Egyptian community, is Al-Karnak.40 This film depicts the state of political dictatorship embraced by Nasser’s regime. It also portrays the enormous violations committed by security forces in a systematic manner.

At the beginning of the third millennium, the Mubarak regime adopted a new policy to uphold the regime, allowing freedom of expression in an unprecedented manner in Egypt. It also allowed writers, journalists, and opposition parties to extensively criticize the government and expose its flaws and errors, as an outlet for venting political tension and frustration. The changes were put in effect on the condition that the president and his family were not mentioned: an untouchable red line. Therefore, writers blatantly criticized the police, producing movies such as Heena Maysarah (Till things get better),41 'Imarat Ya'qubian (The Yacou- bian Building)42 and Hiyya Fawda (This is chaos).43 Undoubtedly, the cinematic industry sheds light on already existing social realities experienced in Egyptian communities. Yet, police corruption should not overshadow the corruption in other government bodies.

The Mol often ignored recurring instances of police corruption, selectively issuing statements dispelling potential accusations of corruption. This led the media to doubt the sincerity of the ministry’s intentions. The Mol has also consistently defended its own role in corruption cases to avert responsibility, claiming that incidents of corruption have nothing to do with its general policy, instead of admitting its mistakes and working toward rectifying the problem. Thus, within the police force, officers believed that the media had been deceived by a consistent Egyptian government cover-up of the most controversial cases.44

During the events of January 25, Egyptian media consistently highlighted police officers’ violations against peaceful protesters, without distinguishing between peaceful protesters in public squares and criminals who broke into various police stations or public offices. Egyptian media often portrayed the police as criminals, while police officers who shot at those attempting to break into police stations believed that they were practicing their legal right of self-defense, ensured by Articles 245 to 251 of the Egyptian Penal Code. Moreover, Article 102 of the Police Corps Act allows police officers to use force in measures necessary to perform their duties.

However, with the rise of social media, police brutality could not go officially unnoticed. User-generated content produced by the recording, uploading, and sharing of videos online, available for all to see, has made abuses harder to conceal, challenging police control and authority.45 The Battle of the Camel on February 2, 2011, for example, displayed striking proof of police brutality; yet, state media reported that the protest was “a seditious plot hatched by the unlikely alliance of Israel, Iran, Hezbollah, and the United States.”46 Both camps thus used media to assert their positions. But Mubarak had power to shape the dialogue surrounding these events and to shape public opinion to a great degree. As Lesch points out, “Legislation passed in 2006 made thirty-five offenses punishable by prison sentences for up to five years, such as publishing ‘fake’ news, undermining ‘national security,’ and defaming a domestic or international figure, public servant, or head of state.”47 The government also ensured its grip on the internet by requiring internet cafes and mobile phone companies to register each customer for tracking purposes.48 Infiltration of communication by the police was a daily reality for the Egyptian people.

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