What We Are Seeing: Army vs. Police

Tuesday, February 01, 2011 - 01:57 PM

Thousands of people have been demonstrating in the streets of Egypt for more than a week, and the army has backed them all the way. That's in stark contrast to the protesters' relationship with the police which has been strained for the past few decades of President Mubarak's regime.

This is no surprise, said Michael Wahid Hanna, a fellow at the Century Foundation. The police and the army are very different institutions in Egypt. "They have different roles," he told John Hockenberry on The Takeaway's new podcast, Wave of Change. "The army is a silent guarantor of the regime's stability but it's not the face of the regime that's seen by people on a day to day basis."

When protests began a week ago, police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the crowds, and the crowds responded by attacking police vehicles. Egypt's Ministry of Interior, to which the police and security forces are connected, is "universally loathed by protesters," Hanna said. When people are arrested and detained, it's the face of the police they see, not the army.

The army, on the other hand, has only been called to the streets twice in Egypt's history, Hanna said. They are a respected institution and a source of pride and stability in Egypt. The differences between the police reputations and the army reputation, he added, could create a rivalry between them as the protests continue.

Shashank Joshi, an analyst with the Royal United Services Institute in London, agreed. If the country shuts down, the police's reputation will not be able to hold the country together, but the army's could. "The army is the only viable candidate," he said. "The police will be able to play no significant role in mantaining public order if there's a general breakdown."

Looking ahead, Joshi said protesters have two difficult choices at this point in the road. Either they stay as they are and their energy disipates over time when they return to work and their lives, or their energy escalates which could present "great dangers" to how they are seen by the international community.

Hanna said one big move has to happen first;President Mubarak's departure from office. Without this, it is difficult to think about how a transition in Egypt's government can take place.

Guests:

Michael Wahid Hanna and Shashank Joshi

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