Underlining the overwhelming task facing authorities trying to restore order, police strikes spread across Egypt, with officers demanding better protection.
Dozens of police protested peacefully in Egypt’s second city of Alexandria, saying that they did not want their work to become politicised and chanting “the police are not against the people”, MENA said.
Dozens of officers closed the Qasr al-Nil police station in Cairo, demanding the sacking of Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim, who they say is working with President Mohamed Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood to use the force in a political battle.
“Leave, Brotherhood minister,” the policemen chanted.
The police want a law to clearly lay down their powers and duties, and have also demanded weapons to deal with ongoing political protests.
In the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, hundreds of central security force (CSF) conscripts withdrew from the security headquarters, saying they refused to protect the building any more, state television said.
Hundreds of central security officers are on strike in the Nile Delta province of Daqahliya, with police shutting down several police stations.
“We just want to stay out of politics,” one told a private satellite channel.
“We want to know what the ministry wants. We will not confront the people any more. The protesters are our relatives. We are losing our people and our brothers. My brother is a protester,” the officer said.
The police, particularly the CSF, have been engaged in violent and deadly street clashes with protesters, turning the public even more against an already reviled institution long accused of abuses.
“We want a law to protect us. They tell us to confront the protesters, then when we do we are put in jail,” the officer said.
The interior ministry has been the main apparatus of repression in Egypt for decades, and its heavy-handed tactics were a driving force behind the uprising that toppled Mubarak. Activists have long called for a complete restructuring of the ministry and police.
Separately, protesters wearing surgical masks, scarves and hoods clashed with police wielding tear gas as violence in the Egyptian city of Port Said entered its fifth day yesterday.
The city at the northern end of the Suez Canal has been a flashpoint since January, with violent protests over death sentences given to residents in connection with a football stadium riot in which more than 70 people died last year.
Security has deteriorated in Egypt since the overthrow of Mubarak in a popular uprising two years ago, with some of the worst unrest in Port Said, an industrial city where residents complain of being marginalised.
Youths threw stones and made lewd gestures at a line of police officers who released smoke bombs into streets strewn with rubbish, television footage from pan-Arab channel Al Arabiya showed.
At least six people have been killed in this week’s protests in the Mediterranean city, including three policemen.
The security services in the city told Reuters they were ramping up protection of the central prison and Suez Canal offices before a court hearing tomorrow, which is expected to confirm the death sentence for 21 prisoners.
Yesterday’s clashes prevented some of the staff of a Suez Canal container company from going to work.
Meanwhile, Bedouin gunmen in the Sinai Peninsula yesterday released a British ExxonMobil executive and his wife who were kidnapped earlier in the day on the road from Cairo to the beach resort of Sharm el Sheikh, the company said.
Andy Wills, chairman and managing director of the oil giant’s Egypt and Cyprus operations, and his wife were seized when they broke their car trip to change money in Ras es-Sidr, 150km southeast of Cairo, security sources said.
The couple were held for several hours before being handed over to the army after negotiations with tribal elders.
“ExxonMobil confirms that the chairman and managing director of ExxonMobil Egypt and Cyprus and his wife are safe and unharmed after being held briefly earlier today,” Exxon spokesman Alan Jeffers said.
The kidnappers were demanding the release of four prisoners held in Alexandria on charges of arms smuggling, the Egyptian security sources said.
South Sinai’s Red Sea coast is a major tourism area for Egypt and several other tourists have been held briefly by tribesmen in recent months and released unharmed, often after just a few hours of negotiations with authorities.
Bedouin have attacked police stations, blocked access to towns and taken hostages to show their discontent with what they see as their poor treatment by Cairo and to press for the release of jailed kinsmen.