The Egyptian National Police: at the Service of the People?

The Egyptian National Police (ENP), and its paramilitary branch the Central Security Forces (CSF), play a significant role in Egyptian political process, and their influence was conspicuous in the 2011 revolution. The police force is large, and has been a major employer of young middle and lower-class men who might otherwise have been unemployed or conscripted into the military. However, pay is low and positions in the security forces are often seen as secondary to those in the military in terms of prestige. The police grew significantly under Hosni Mubarak, partly in response to terrorist attacks, but also as part of the expansion of the state security apparatus that came to dominate Egyptian society. While the intelligence services monitored the population for dissent, the police acted upon the information to enforce submission and intimidate.


The police have historically been recognized on January 25, which is National Police Day and a national holiday. It is an annual event that commemorates the resistance of a group of Egyptian police officers against British colonial forces, which resulted in the deaths of over fifty officers and helped to spark the revolution that eventually displaced King Farouk with Gamal Abdel Nasser.

The ENP is answerable to the Department of the Interior, which is controlled by the President. Such civilian control stands it apart from the military, which is independently very powerful and answers primarily to its senior generals. As a result, the police are often the president’s first resort when attempting to suppress political protests. Within the wider police, it is the Central Security Forces which performs the majority of the politically motivated tasks, specifically, controlling large crowds and riots. It is widely recognized that the ENP is an instrument used politically, beyond the remit of a regular civilian police force, with many allegations of illegal arrests, detainment and torture leveled against them.

Indeed, police brutality is acknowledged as one of the main causes of the 2011 revolution, and the death of Khaled Mohammed Saeed at the hands of police is a documented trigger to broad public protests. On January 25, 2011, National Police Day, widespread protests broke out. Demands were myriad, but calls for an end to police brutality were central. Within days the protests had spread across the country, and the heavy handed response by police, which included mass arrests and abuses in holding cells, only served to further stoke anger. The militarized Central Security Forces were deployed to contain protests and were quick to use force to deter. However, after violent clashes resulted in civilian injury and even death, the protests grew. By the time of the ‘Day of Rage’ on January 29, it was apparent that the state security apparatus was being overwhelmed, and the military was deployed. For the rest of the revolution, the police took a back seat and the army was primarily responsible for public order and security.

Since 2011, there have been two further waves of revolution. Firstly, the second wave in which military control was ceded Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood. Then, the third wave which saw Morsi deposed and replaced by military strongman Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Throughout this period, the intelligence services and ENP have been restored and have continued to perform what is reported as their former role. Many people claim this is because the security apparatus used to control political expression was never dismantled, merely not used. After coming to power, every subsequent leader has employed and indeed come to rely on the police as much as their predecessors.

In recent months, allegations of increasingly malicious abuses have come to light. Kidnappings followed by savage beatings and sexual abuse, which have resulted in death, are among the techniques said to be used against activists. There has been no official recognition of such mistreatment allegations, and action against individuals has been limited in scope and ineffectual. The effects of such severe abuse, and the central role which the issue played in the 2011 revolution, represent a longstanding and powerful grievance that is deeply rooted in the Egyptian public’s conscience. Without any meaningful reform, the police and their methods will continue to be highly contentious, and potential a source of future unrest.