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Egyptian Police "Go Clubin’" Again

"An undercover Egyptian police officer, wearing a less than appropriate t-shirt, stands guard during a protest in Cairo on May 2, 2010." (Jon Jensen/GlobalPost)

Protests in Egypt’s capital turned violent today for the second time this week, as pro-reform activists and security forces clashed near Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo.

Dozens of mainly young political activists joined several opposition lawmakers for a planned march to Egypt’s Parliament building.  Throughout the day, protesters taunted the scores of black-clad riot police encircling the area, and clashes between the two groups, in the form of rugby-scrum pushing, occurred all day.  But when protesters tried to move outside the cordon, police forces charged, and several protesters were beaten, punched and trampled. 

Clashes yesterday were less violent, though just as intense, as hundreds gathered near Egypt’s Cabinet building to protest low wages (the minimum wage in Egypt is a meager $7 per month).

Police abuse in Egypt, often in the form of beatings by baton, has drawn the condemnation of human rights groups as well as the U.S. Department of State. Egypt, however, consistently maintains its citizens enjoy all the freedoms of public assembly granted under their constitution. 

Which is exactly why seeing a plainclothes Egyptian police officer at yesterday’s protest wearing a tee shirt of a club-wielding caveman seemed so reprehensible. White letters spelled out the phrase “Going Clubin’” across his chest.

“No, what is it?” the officer told me with a smile when pressed on the shirt’s meaning.

Sick joke or ignorance in the form of undercover garb?  Of course, the goal of Egypt’s plainclothes police force is not to go undercover (if their fake designer brand-name jeans and similarly trimmed mustaches don’t give them away, it’s the fact that they stand in perfect military formation).  Rather, their goal is to intimidate and control protesters the government would rather never come together in the first place.

Almost as ironic as the officer’s shirt was the fact most of the police clashing with yesterday’s protesters — over minimum wage — typically make less than $50 per month themselves.  Much more than the official minimum wage, but still not enough to make a decent living with rising inflation. 

A fact that didn’t escape my new friend wearing the shirt. 

“I don't agree with the protesters, but I don’t make enough money either,” he whispered, leaning in to me. “Any chance you can help me find work in America?”