Brutal popcorn

Rana Allam
7 Min Read
Rana Allam
Rana Allam

Some weeks ago, we noticed the reappearance of the uniformed lot scattered like popcorn all over the city streets. Tongue in cheek, I welcomed them. We have missed them, all that horrid traffic, the street vendors, the chaos… I had hopes that maybe they would do something. However, the white uniforms proved to be useless, to say the least!

As I drive home on the ring road, between cursing and thanking God I still live, truck drivers are storming by using all lanes, some seem to be racing and others seem to be asleep. They drive over 100 kilometres an hour, or less than a kilometre an hour, in a lane of their choosing, and changing it is at the driver’s whim, with complete disregard to the poor tiny cars trying to get by and go home safely. By the side of the road, some ten trailers are parked occupying half the road, their drivers taking a break from their drive, drinking their tea, taking a piss with absolutely no shame. All this while we struggle to avoid crashing into them or crashing trying to avoid them. Not a popcorn in sight on that ring road.

Then I reach the empty road leading to where I live, and suddenly our popcorns decide to have a check-point of some sort. It is as yet unclear whether this is a traffic checkpoint or a security one, I never saw them do anything but squeeze the four lane street into one lane, resulting in the addition of  half an hour of travel to what should take two minutes. Usually they are having a picnic by the side of the road, with their little soldiers getting them food and drink while they watch our misery from afar. Every now and then, they would move among the queues of cars eyeing us with disdain. Cars without license plates, and dark windows would pass unnoticed; trucks that should not pass down the street would pass normally. For what reason are we made to suffer? No one seems to know. Non-uniformed officers with guns are also a common sight these days, at least at most checkpoints. When I did ask a non-uniformed officer why they are blocking the street, he shouted at me “just pass, just pass”. I yelled and cursed as I passed, but they don’t care if they are cursed at! It is obviously a normal occurrence and they don’t appear to want to change that. What do they get from making Egyptian civilians miserable? Do they need to hate us even more? What is the secret?

Now cars without license plates and dark windows are becoming the stars of Cairo traffic. Several times, I have seen such cars parking for tea parties with the popcorns, I have also seen a couple driving into the Giza Security Department building (and I have the picture to prove it). Before the revolution, police officers used to have the “eagle” stuck onto the license plates of their cars to avoid being stopped by their colleagues or getting traffic tickets, now after the attacks they were subject to during and after the revolution, most of them removed the eagle and the plates altogether… a new secret code to get that special treatment it seems. Of course I am only speculating, but check for yourself, take a good look and if you do not reach the same conclusion, let me know.

The popcorn lot are seen all the time all over the city streets, standing idly by, watching as cars and bicycles and trucks and microbuses and buses and pedestrians struggle to reach their destination alive and in reasonable time. They watch, tea glass in one hand and mobile in the other as we try to survive passing through an intersection or entering a roundabout. I once asked one of them, why don’t you coordinate the movement? He completely disregarded me and went back to sit in his shaded kiosk, cigarette in mouth.

Then you read the news of the day, “Cairo police rid Al-Manzala from thugs”, “Police capture biggest thug on earth, Nakhnoukh”… and I wonder what is behind these stories. These officers have received no proper training whatsoever, or else they would do a better job on the streets, be it traffic, sexual assaults, drug use in public or burglaries in broad daylight. They are incapable of bringing order to a bunch of drivers, how do they catch thugs and big mafiosi as they would have us believe? I think their secret lies in the ability to use force and brutality, they are incapable of doing their job without using their batons and guns… check how they handle peaceful sit-ins and protests. They can only bring order to city streets through the emergency law which they misused by detaining and torturing Egyptians to get answers. No professional investigations are carried out in these police stations; instead they mistreat people to coerce statements. And any order that follows is a result of brutality. So should we applaud police brutality in return for our safety, given that our police force either sits idly by or gets up and beats the heck out of us?

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