CAIRO — Thousands of Egyptian police launched a nationwide strike on Monday to demand better salaries and a purge of former regime officials from senior security posts.
About 3,000 lower ranking police rallied in front of the Interior Ministry in central Cairo to push their demands, including a 200 percent pay raise. They also called for an end to military trials for lower ranking police.
Outside Cairo, police blocked main roads and shut down police stations.
Police said they would hold an open ended sit-in until their demands were met, as around 12,000 went on strike. Egypt has 350,000 police altogether.
Some of the officers at the protest waved banners reading "Good treatment equals better service."
Another banner called for "Purging the ministry of the mafia and the remnants of el-Adly," a reference to former Interior Minister Habib el-Adly, who is on trial for deadly police attacks on unarmed protesters during the uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak.
In the eight months since Mubarak's ouster, the discredited police force has been unable and reluctant to fully take back control of the streets since the uprising. Hatred of the police and their brutal tactics were main motivations behind the uprising.
Karim Medhat Ennarah of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights told The Associated Press that the Interior Ministry has been more responsive to calls for change since Mubarak's ouster in February, but there is no political will in the ministry to cooperate and initiate reform.
In March, the Interior Ministry dissolved the contentious State Security Investigations agency, in line with a main demand of the protest movement that led the 18-day uprising to oust Mubarak. Many protest leaders have said that the agency's former members remain active in protecting the remnants of the old regime and trying to sabotage the transition to democracy.
"If we don't start the reform process now, we are inevitably driving toward another clash between the state and people," Ennarah said.
Coinciding with Monday's strike, former police and rights groups published a proposal to reform the Interior Ministry.
Former police officer Mohamed Mahfouz said one of the main obstacles to reform are top ministry officials who are worried about an internal uprising among lower ranking policemen.
"Officials turn a blind eye to corruption in order to control the possibility of a revolt from within," he said, referring to bribes as well as the torture and abuse of detainees by the police force.
The job also offers little stability, particularly for lower ranking police who are reshuffled between posts with varying salaries, Mahfouz said.
"Police end up turning into thugs with a permit," he said. "There needs be a purge, accountability and oversight in the reform process."
Associated Press correspondent Maggie Michael contributed to this report from Cairo.