Police officers take part in a sanctioned protest outside the Interior Ministry building in Cairo yesterday.
CAIRO: Hundreds of Egyptian police rallied yesterday to demand higher wages, in a rare act of defiance of a new protest law which they themselves have been enforcing to quell unrest on the streets.
The demonstration by police was an ironic turn of events after arrests of activists for violating the controversial law passed last month, which requires Interior Ministry permission for any public gathering of more than 10 people.
Around 200 non-commissioned officers had been granted permission to protest at a Police Club in Cairo, where they called on officials to come to discuss their pay demand with them.
When they received no response they marched to the Interior Ministry in defiance of the new law. Security sources said they shoved barricades at fellow members of the security forces outside the club, before the protesters were allowed to march.
Seperately, police fired tear gas to disperse supporters of ousted Islamist President Mohamed Mursi who gathered in front of Al Azhar University in Cairo and at Mansoura University, north of Cairo. Unrest has helped topple two Egyptian presidents in less than three years. Veteran autocrat Hosni Mubarak was ousted after a popular uprising in 2011, while the army removed Mursi on July 3 following mass protests against his one-year rule.
Police have arrested thousands of Mursi’s Islamist supporters who have been staging rallies calling for his reinstatement, and the army-backed interim government passed the new protest law to strictly regulate public gatherings. Security forces have fired tear gas and water cannon to disperse protesters who defied the protest law in recent weeks.
Meanwhile, three prominent Egyptian secular activists went on trial yesterday charged with participating in a violent protest, following a restrictive new law that has sparked international criticism.
The trial of Ahmed Maher, Ahmed Douma and Mohammed Adel is the first of secular activists since Islamist president Mohamed Mursi was deposed by the army in July. Adel is being tried in absentia.
Rights groups see the trial as a widening of a crackdown on protests by the authorities, who until now have been targeting Islamist supporters of Mursi.
The three activists are accused of several charges including assaulting police officers and joining a protest without seeking a police permit as required by the new law. Both Maher, the founder of the April 6 youth movement that led the 2011 revolt against Hosni Mubarak, and Douma denied the accusations.
“We will pursue our struggle inside and outside (the prison), the authority which is using the judiciary to put us in jail will fall,” Douma said.
Representatives of the European Union were present at the proceedings in a Cairo court.
The court took a one hour recess soon after it started the hearing. Maher and Douma were arrested after Maher’s supporters allegedly scuffled with policemen outside a Cairo court on November 30, as Maher handed himself in for questioning on suspicion he had organised an illegal protest. All three defendants were leading dissidents under Mubarak, and supported the military’s overthrow of Mursi.
The passage of a law on November 24 that bans all but police-authorised protests has angered secular activists who had viewed the military-installed government as a lesser evil than Mursi’s. Meanwhile, a court acquitted 155 people arrested during deadly clashes in the capital between Islamist protesters and police in October, state media reported yesterday.
The Cairo misdemeanour court on Saturday dismissed the charges of assaulting policemen and vandalism over the October 6 clashes that killed almost 50 people, state-owned Al Ahram newspaper reported.