Interior Minister Ahmad Gamal Eddin has announced the ministry’s intention to launch a satellite television channel. The Ministry of Interior is still recovering from a collapse of bureaucratic morale from the breaking of the Central Security Forces (al-Amn al-Markazi) on January 28, 2011. It can barely keep cars from driving the wrong way down one-way streets. It seems unable to stop spectacular daylight robberies of five-star hotels in Cairo (the lede of this Reuters round-up on security in Egypt), or, as we saw this week, to prevent a small protest in front of the U.S. embassy from getting out of hand.
Despite — or perhaps because — of the inertia of its actual police forces, the propaganda wing of the ministry has taken the past 18 months as its opportunity to rise and shine. Bursting onto Egypt’s televisions on jetskis out of an episode of Baywatch and with the drum-machine-and-Stravinski-string-hacking blare of a Bond movie comes الأمن للجميع (Al-Amn li-l-Gamiʿ, or “Security for All”), a thrice-weekly show on state-owned Channel One. One imagines the new satellite channel will show programming like this 24 hours a day.
Like “To Serve and Protect,” the current ministry motto recited in the opening is “The Police Serve the People. The Law Is Above Everyone.” I have not pinned down the date the first episode aired, but the show’s Facebook page was created on May 17, 2011. Considering Egypt was governed on Facebook for the greater part of the past 18 months (I’m looking at you, SCAF), I think that this should be a reliable source of information for the month the show was launched. Hossam el-Hamalawy covered it around this time, too. The Facebook page links to the whole family of Ministry of Interior Facebook pages, including one memorializing the troops and officers “martyred” in the revolution. The page first linked to videos of the show ripped by a site called “duckload-ar.info” until the ministry made its own You Tube page on March 13, 2012. Most of the clips on this channel have fewer than 1,000 views; there seems not to be much interest either in the way of support or opposition. According to this page, the Ministry of Interior is 60 years old. Is this an homage to the 1952 revolution? The ministry has been at the core of the Egyptian state for a lot longer than that.
Crime news in Egypt, as a part of the daily evening news, has always been somewhat spectacular, if in an empirical fashion. It seems in news reports that the more drugs, guns, knives and bad guys captured, the better. This is probably a result of the unitary nature of the security apparatus in Egypt. There is no municipality run community policing in Egypt; rather, everything is under the chain of command of the Ministry of Interior down to the level of the neighborhood qism (precinct), or markaz, in rural areas. So even though there’s plenty of news stories of individual crimes happening in particular places, a lot of the ministry’s aggregates achievements around the country into mind-numbing statistics. 2,345 kilograms of hashish and 169 guns — that’s a good week’s haul. The police often provide state TV with videos of one or another gang of criminals standing shamefacedly in front of a table of the loot. For example, here’s 33 knives, 13 guns and (some of the) 57 gangsters from a recent bust:
Security for All still shows clips like this one, but the production values for the overall package have been kicked way upstairs. Now, there’s a glass-and-brushed-aluminum studio for the announcer, replete with a backdrop of Cairo at night and a banner with the Ministry of Interior emblem on it. The show’s fifteen-minute run time leaves room for highly produced and dramatic videos. With this pulpit, the ministry can also convey a much higher-concept message than mere kilos of drugs captured. I have chosen excerpts from an episode that aired February 13 this year that are exemplary of the new approach.
In the first minute of the show, the announcer gives one of the most baldfaced distillations of the Egyptian state’s security ideology I have ever seen. Here’s my paraphrase in English:
We always begin our program with the slogan, “The Police Serve the People, and the Law is above Everyone,” but we would like to reiterate at the start here that, really, the police serve the people, and the law is above everyone. But for the police to serve the people, there needs to be a realization of just one thing, a difficult issue. This is the issue of security. Security (الأمن, al-amn) and safety (الأمان, al-amān) are very important things. What does security mean? Security, in all simplicity, means stability. And if there’s stability, there will be work, and if there’s work, there will be economic activity and development. This will attract capital investment, and improve Egypt’s place on the world map to the one it deserves. There will be tourism, one of the reasons for national security, and also one of the most important sources of national income and one of the industries that we work in. Of course, we have to be present (on the map) in tourism, and so we are present on the map of security. Any tourist group that wants to travel today looks at the map of security and sees the regions and countries that enjoy a high level of security, to choose a suitable and safe place to visit… So you see, Egypt’s touristic, economic and even historical position is realized through the concept of security. Security is not only the responsibility of the men of the police, but it also comes about through the cooperation of all citizens.
In this brief essay, the Ministry has collapsed the concept of crime and security. It ignores individual crimes against private interests, promoting instead public participation in a cult of security and obedience to police forces. Its reductive identification of security as the solution to Egypt’s economic problems makes no mention of the other reasons, from disastrous public sector management to corrupt privatization deals and the outmoded education system, for these problems. The announcer cites tourism as the part of the economy most sensitive to security, but only implies that terrorism or violent political protests are the specific crimes that hurt this sector.
The astounding short film that the announcer says represents Egypt’s dedication to security depicts a special forces raid on a gang in rural Qalyoubiya. The program does not say what the criminals in question did in any detail or what crimes they are being charged with. Moreover, it is difficult to understand how some (probable) drug dealers in an area remote from monuments and beaches affect the tourism industry. We start with the police in the early dawn preparing for a raid. The voice over: “The aim: thuggery” (البلتجية, al-baltageya).
OK, so it all looks pretty organized, these guys have a game plan, and they’re all decked out in state of the art gear. After 30 seconds of driving clips, which I have left out, the film cuts abruptly to the raid in progress:
Holy moly! I remember my surprise when I learned as a kid that the police (in the U.S.) had to fill out a report for every bullet they fired — it totally contradicts every police/action movie ever made. However, I’m not sure anybody filled out any paperwork for the fireworks display above. It is impossible to tell if there is a real gunfight between the gang, holed up in some building or behind some trees, and the police, and there’s no narrative to explain this. It appears that many of the troops are just firing in the air to create an atmosphere of mayhem. It is my suspicion this is what the army did on the night of the Friday of Rage (Jan. 28, 2011) in the desert near Tora Prison south of al-Maʿadi to keep people afraid and in their homes. The film wraps up with the capture of the crooks and then about 15-20 short interviews with the troops and their commanders, who mostly thank God for success and pledge how much they love their country. It concludes with a tender ballad over replayed scenes of shooting.
I am not claiming that nationalistic, pro-police propaganda is peculiar to Egypt; the US led the way twenty years ago with “Cops” and “America’s Most Wanted.” However, Egypt’s version is blatantly crafted to the needs of the national government in this turbulent time, especially for an insecure new leadership. President Morsi spent his first day in office with the army, but on his second morning, he met the top 20 police generals to discuss strategy. Certainly many Egyptians fear an increase in random violent crime like armed carjacking — but I wonder what effect viewing such an over-the-top assault has on most people, beyond entertainment. Does it inspire confidence in the Interior Ministry? Mostly, the film reminds me of the “Upper Class Twits Go Hunting” sketch from Monty Python’s Flying Circus: