A string of tiny lights bows from the awning of the Star of Freedom café across an unpaved plaza to the globe of the municipal lamppost, whose light the government has not turned on in years. Tabletops of tea and dominoes spread from the café’s cramped interior and fill the horseshoe-shaped plaza, rimmed by a hardware store, a bright yellow barber shop and a mosque with an optometry office for the needy. A zigzagging tuk-tuk blares spastic pop music over the din of evening conversation.

The Star of Freedom is a typical gathering place in Imbaba, a tight-knit working class neighborhood situated along the western banks of the Nile, opposite downtown Cairo. Imbaba is where the Mamluk cavalry met Napoleon’s advance in fields of clover and, as recently as the 1950s, was a verdant backdrop for the villas and houseboats of nearby Zamalek. But now the clover is covered over by a thicket of apartment blocks, home to more than a million, housed several times as densely as downtown.

Though located centrally, Imbaba is invisible to downtown Cairo, figuratively and literally. The neighborhood is situated along the banks of the “Blind Sea,” a short stretch of the Nile that runs behind Gezira island. Much of Imbaba is considered a mintaqa ‘ashwa’iyya or “improvised area,” and does not appear on government maps. When referring to Imbaba and other popular quarters, state-run newspapers often employ metaphors of disease, such as “cancer,” invoking a place that must be “cured” through urban planning and stern policing.

During the early chaotic days of the 2011 uprising all news cameras were directed at Tahrir Square and very little information was coming out of the popular neighborhoods. Rumors circulated of an “outright war” between the people and police in Imbaba. Yet two weeks after the uprising anyone looking for outward signs that something significant had transpired in Imbaba would be hard-pressed: The shops were open, the alleys bustling; if anything, the neighborhood looked spiffier, with fresh coats of paint on the schools and street curbs. Sitting in front of the Star of Freedom, Mahmoud al-Sharabati, a close friend and life-long resident of Imbaba, pointed to the top of the plaza with a satisfied grin. “There is the biggest difference.” Two police officers walked arm in arm, the shorter one anxiously glancing over his shoulder. “Now they are scared of us.”

In large part, the revolution was and continues to be about the police. For most residents of Imbaba, interaction with the police force is their most direct relationship with state authority. Under the old regime, autocratic rule at the top was recreated at the street level, where the police acted as local dictators. Appropriately, the protests that eventually toppled President Husni Mubarak began on National Police Day, January 25. The date originally commemorated Egyptian police officers who resisted British occupation in 1952, but it had taken on a sinister cast in recent decades as the country regressed into a brutal police state, and the liberators became the oppressors. When Mubarak declared January 25 a national holiday in 2010, in tribute to the force that propped up his regime, most likely he did not suspect that Egyptians would use their new day off work to start a revolution.

Police Battle in Imbaba

As Mahmoud tells it, the revolution came to Imbaba three days later. That day, January 28, Mahmoud emerged from Friday prayers to find Imbaba’s landmark mosque overlooking the Nile surrounded by a phalanx of several hundred black-clad riot police of the Central Security Forces, the mostly rural conscripts tasked with domestic population control. Inside the ring of riot police were a handful of officers from the local Imbaba police station, dispatched by the Ministry of Interior to ensure that residents from lower-class neighborhoods did not join the escalating protests downtown. These were the same officers who for years had lorded over the neighborhood with a heavy hand, regularly harassing residents, shaking them down for bribes and worse. “We detest these men, but they are familiar,” Mahmoud explained. “They told us, ‘Go home, don’t go downtown. We don’t want any excitement.’ We didn’t like what they were saying, but we were just talking.”

When the residents did not disperse, first one and then the entire front line of the jittery, poorly trained riot police launched a volley of tear gas canisters above the heads of the young men, arcing over the dome of the mosque, and into the densely packed apartments and alleys behind. The crowd saw the fuming canisters crash down on familiar balconies, heard the panicked screams of neighbors and erupted in retaliation.

The street battle raged along the corniche, with the police blocking the road to the downtown bridges. Sheltering behind overturned dumpsters, the youth hurled stones and Pepsi bottle Molotov cocktails against the riot police’s rubber bullets and birdshot, which pockmarked the metal doors of shuttered storefronts and blinded better than a dozen residents. Tea glasses and other missiles rained down on police lines from the apartments above as the whole neighborhood joined the fight. Mahmoud and the other young men took turns rushing each new volley of tear gas, redirecting the spewing canisters into the Nile.

As fighting continued in Imbaba, several hundred residents cut back through the neighborhood and crossed behind the police to join the protests unfolding downtown in what would be a decisive moment in the revolution. On Qasr al-Nil, the principal bridge leading to central downtown, the Imbaba youth merged with 20,000 protesters facing down a massive wall of riot police. After several afternoon hours of struggle against water cannons, constant tear gas, batons and rubber bullets, the tenacious protesters overran the police, rushed into downtown and took firm hold of Tahrir Square.

With the capture of Tahrir on January 28, the balance of power in the streets turned and the most corrupt elements of the regime began to panic. The Ministry of Interior ordered a chaotic retreat; officers abandoned stations and prisons and dispersed into crowds in street clothes. Between five and six o’clock that evening, three fourths of the police stations in the country burned down.

If the intent behind the police action was to incite chaos, to turn the public against the revolution or to justify the use of even more state force, the cynical strategy backfired. Cairo is perhaps the safest megalopolis in the world — its residents are mostly unaccustomed to street crime. As news spread across Cairo of a complete police retreat amid rumors of widespread looting and roving mobs of armed escaped prisoners, residents of every neighborhood banded together to form popular committees for self-defense and millions of Cairenes previously ambivalent about the revolution came down on the side of the protesters. “On January 25, I didn’t pay much attention to the protesters. I thought they were a nuisance,” remembers Mahmoud’s mother. “But what the police did to us on January 28 and 29…I could not believe.”

At midnight on January 28, the military’s tanks rumbled into Cairo to secure the city. The convoy was received downtown by jubilant crowds, but the tanks would not reach the poorer neighborhoods for another 24 hours. The next morning in Imbaba, plainclothes police pushed in from the corniche and laid siege to the neighborhood with live ammunition in a crazed mix of crowd control and vengeance. “This is when it became deadly,” Mahmoud recalled. “The riot police shot because they were scared. The plainclothes police shot to kill. You have heard what happened to Muhammad Nasr.”

Muhammad Nasr’s name surfaced frequently in Imbaba, and his picture was everywhere. On the white vinyl banners that draped across every alley entrance memorializing the dozens of neighborhood martyrs, Nasr was the smiling, darker-skinned guy in a neon-lime t-shirt. He was one among the many young men gunned down by the police, but perhaps because his gruesome end was captured on a cell phone camera and distributed widely, his story had become emblematic of police brutality during the revolution.

On the afternoon of January 29, Muhammad Nasr had an appointment with a family friend to discuss picking up a few days’ work. For Nasr, as for the majority of his class and generation, steady full-time employment was hard to come by, so he improvised, cobbling together a few days as an electrician’s assistant with other jobs he could find.

Leaving his appointment, Nasr followed the clamor to Mamdouh Salim Street, where a crowd had gathered in front of the old Egypt Telecom building to stage a peaceful march past the police station to Tahrir Square. As the march set off toward the Nile it was met by a line of released prisoners the breadth of the road, human shields led at gunpoint by plainclothes officers. At the command of the police, the prisoners knelt, and over their heads the officers fired live ammunition into the crowd. Seeing his neighbors fall, Nasr dashed from side streets to help. While dragging an injured neighbor out of harm’s way, he was shot twice in the chest and collapsed in the courtyard of his little sister’s school. Nasr’s friends carried his bleeding body on the back of a motorcycle to al-Tahrir hospital in Imbaba but found no doctors, as all staff had been kept from work by police intimidation. By the time they reached a second hospital, it was two hours later and too late.

The following day, the same friends carried Muhammad’s portrait and his story downtown to join the crowds in Tahrir. The millions now assembled would no longer be moved. Thirteen days later a military plane escorted Husni Mubarak to his estate in Sharm el-Sheikh, ending the presidency that had begun the year Muhammad Nasr was born.

Possibilities of Reform

In the weeks after Mubarak’s departure the ranks of international journalists began to dwindle. In the lobbies and gardens of Cairo’s downtown hotels, the khaki vests and bulging AV duffel bags were replaced by the dark suits and black padded dossiers of international technocrats. These envoys came eager to dispense Expert Advice to reform Egypt’s public institutions. They came pushing portfolios of what passes for “sexy” in the development world: constitutional reform, political party formation, election administration.

Somewhere in this package deal for a future democratic Egypt was the notion of police reform. Yet Hossam Bahgat, the prominent human rights advocate, insists that security-sector reform is not merely one issue among many — all others follow from this point. “In every meeting that we have with any officials or visiting dignitaries, we stress that the number-one priority is security-sector reform, because that is the backbone of the abusive, authoritarian apparatus. And if it stays in place you can forget about elections, you can forget about civil society, you can forget about a free press — if it remains intact, it is the one body that could bring down the progress of the revolution.”

The problem will not yield to the usual development prescriptions of “capacity building”; the push must come from the top. “Torture and impunity are not technical problems — they are not even legal problems — they are a policy position,” observes Bahgat. “Technical training will only be useful once the political decision is made. Immediately, what needs to be done is for the leadership to send a clear message — to society, but more importantly, to police officers themselves. Pick up the phone and say, ‘Enough.’”

In the early months of the post-Mubarak transition many Egyptians expressed a willingness to grant the new leadership, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), time to find its bearings. Some people charitably interpreted lapses in conduct — arrests of journalists, episodes of brutality — as lingering remnants of the old mindset that would be rooted out as the SCAF righted the ship. But as the police evaded accountability for their actions during the uprising, and violence against protesters continued, an uneasy suspicion began to spread that the popular revolution had been overtaken by a palace coup.

With only tepid pressure from the military, the Ministry of Interior resisted outside change, responding to calls for bureaucratic restructuring and civilian oversight with a public relations campaign of corny TV spots showing slick SWAT teams intercepting cocaine shipments and beach cops helping a rich woman jumpstart her sports car. The police Facebook page promised new internal reforms under the eerie and unconvincing catch phrase, “Rest Assured.” At the same time, the SCAF and the Ministry of Interior touted a major step toward satisfying the demands of the revolution: Effective immediately, State Security for Investigation Services (SSI) — the police branch for domestic threats and counterterror — would be dissolved and its offices shuttered. In conjunction, the Ministry announced the creation of a “new” unit, Homeland Security, which would hire an undisclosed number of former SSI officers to execute a similar security portfolio.

Beyond issues of bureaucratic reform, it is the culture of the police that must be reformed. To most Egyptians, the root of the police menace is the pervasive attitude of arrogance, epitomized by Habib al-‘Adli, the former SSI director who was elevated to head the Ministry of Interior in 1997. Under al-‘Adli the mentality of a secret police at perpetual war with internal threats pervaded the entirety of the estimated 1.7 million-strong security apparatus. The excessive tactics used against violent extremist groups in the 1980s and 1990s spilled over into everyday policing even as their original targets withered away. Unlawful detention, extrajudicial killings and torture became commonplace practices, especially in poorer neighborhoods like Imbaba.

Police and security officers operated with impunity under Egypt’s Emergency Law — in effect continually since the assassination of President Anwar al-Sadat in 1981 — a law which superceded the constitution, allowing for almost limitless powers in the name of security, and meted out punishment through an invisible parallel system of state security courts. Al-‘Adli’s first move as minister was to replace the old motto of the police force, “The Police Serve the People,” with “The Police and the People Protect the Homeland.” Numerous TV appearances by high-ranking security officials, complaining that the true victims were the police, demonstrated that the uprising did nothing to change this attitude. In a video making the rounds in February 2011, the police chief of Buhayra was recorded delivering a pep talk to his officers about the Egyptian people: “We are still their masters. Anyone who raises a hand against his master will be beaten.”

Ghada Shahbandar, an energetic human rights activist who has advocated for several years for a truth and reconciliation process between the people and the police force, was dismayed but unsurprised by the unchanged police attitude. “The first time I approached the Ministry of Interior several years ago about a reconciliation process,” says Shahbandar, “they literally laughed in my face. ‘Reconciliation with whom?’”

As Bahgat explained, “They have been educated and brought to believe genuinely that they are above the law — and rightly so, because they have been above the law.”

Burning Evidence in Nasr City

Convenient fires were reported across town in key administrative buildings in the weeks following Mubarak’s departure. At the heavily guarded Ministry of Interior, the official story goes, a disgruntled officer (apparently endowed with a golden arm) lobbed a Molotov cocktail from the sidewalk that sailed through an open window, down a long corridor and into the records room of the Criminal Investigations Unit, igniting several filing cabinets of documents detailing past police activities. As reports of similar fires increased, the police stopped bothering even to fabricate causes.

The military seemed unable or unwilling to safeguard the documents that detailed decades of regime conduct. As popular frustration swelled with the proliferation of downtown fires, word came across Twitter and Facebook of black smoke billowing from the windows of the massive, fortress-like State Security headquarters in Nasr City, just outside Cairo. Crowds followed the news and smoke, and found the headquarters mostly abandoned, save for a handful of lackeys inside burning piles of documents in trash bins. Protesters stormed the barricades and broke into the buildings.

At dusk, silhouettes of protesters waving papers could be seen in the windows of the compound’s main office tower. Teenage protesters who had taken the turrets of the watchtowers yelled down to the crowd, “State Security, state dogs!” The crowd cheered them on. A middle-aged man in a corduroy sportcoat with a wide smile exclaimed, “My 11-year old son is inside! One month ago we were not even permitted to drive on this street. We have taken the Queen!” Though soldiers later arrived on the scene, they did nothing to stop the protesters. Inside and on the streets there was the incredible catharsis of romping in forbidden places. The power of the state, which until so recently had been so real, had suddenly vanished.

This colossal, sand-colored compound that swallows several city blocks was the nerve center of the police state. From here the state reached into every corner of civic life, installing deans at universities, editors at newspapers, anchors on television and imams at mosques. It was here in windowless basements that political prisoners were held and it was here where figures ensnared by the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program were taken and made to talk.

Inside the main building, protesters waded through rooms knee-deep in shredded documents. The documents that managed to escape the shredder presented in writing what everyone had always suspected: plans orchestrating electoral outcomes and judicial rulings, directives to media outlets concerning impermissible content, surveillance records of opposition figures and even minutes from a hurried January 29 meeting discussing how to destroy all of these sensitive documents. Shredding, it read, was preferable to burning, as smoke might attract attention. The eeriest files were those most personal. In their discovery, activists came face to face with the version of themselves as kept in secret files. Detailed biographies crafted in the paranoid prose of secret police were supported by snippets lifted from various random sources. One political activist showed off his personal file, filled with every scrap of paper in his bedroom from the day his apartment was raided in 2009: notebooks, letters, shopping lists, even the newspaper with articles marked in red on the page he happened to have been reading. “Here is my university diploma! How strange to find it here…. My mother was so pissed!”

Despite incriminating finds, many of the document troves showed signs of being picked over. Shelves labeled with the names of key regime figures were bare and records on the drug trade and crime syndicates — areas long suspected to have deep police involvement — were conspicuously absent. In many instances, what was left behind seemed designed to narrow the culpability of the security force to those officials who had already fallen. A compact disc found in plain sight provided recorded telephone calls from Assistant Interior Minister Ahmad Ramzi apparently defying Habib al-‘Adli’s direct order to fire on protesters with live ammunition. “The man is giving terrible orders, sitting in his office. I will not shoot at anyone,” says then-free Ramzi about the already jailed al-‘Adli.

Back outside the complex walls several young men spoke about the situation between the people and the police. Bara’, a tall, thoughtful young man with an American accent acquired from years working in a call center, illustrated the tension with the story of when the police first tried to return to his neighborhood in Nasr City. The neighborhood was still under community watch and as the police car approached the abandoned station it was stopped by a citizen checkpoint. Bara’s friend, in charge of the checkpoint, sauntered up to the police car smoking a joint. Leaning into the driver side window, he exhaled hash smoke straight in the officer’s face, “I need to see some ID.”

Sweet as this role reversal may have been, Bara’ recognized it could not go on forever. Eventually, the neighborhood would need a professional police force. Would Bara’ accept the police coming back into his neighborhood? “If they change, yes.” Do you think they can change? Bara’ paused. “No.”

Imbaba Police Trial

Muhammad Nasr’s family apartment is deep in the interior of Imbaba on what is now called Muhammad Nasr Street. As recently as the 1970s, Muhammad’s area of Imbaba was farmland; now the brick apartments edge his street so closely that sun lights the packed dirt lane only at midday.

Sitting on high armless couches in their apartment a few weeks after his death, Muhammad’s family talks about his cheerful demeanor. “He didn’t know what sadness meant — he was always joking,” remembered Muhammad’s mother, whose face is creased with smile lines. His younger sister Hind agrees. “He could always make the situation light, even when we visited our father’s grave. On the very first step from the cemetery Muhammad would whisper me a little joke to make me laugh.” Sitting under Muhammad’s well-known portrait, reprinted on banners and posters across Cairo, Hind emphasizes that her family is not political, and that her brother was not, either. “He was interested in the protests only for the people. He wanted to be with everyone, to help everyone, to the last.” Muhammad’s mother, too, shies away from the political import of the situation. “Neighbors visit and say, ‘Don’t cry, be proud of your son’s sacrifice.’ I try, but it’s so hard. The separation is so hard.”

Like many, Muhammad’s family can only countenance a return of the police once the accused face public trial. “If the ones who were responsible for this are sent to court they will be an example,” Hind believes. “Then it could be better.”

For the Nasr family this process is not abstract. The anguishing truth is that the family believes they know the man who killed their son, a local officer named Muhammad Mukhtar. Indeed, this officer’s name was mentioned darkly everywhere in Imbaba. In cafés and barber shops everyone spoke of what Muhammad Mukhtar had done, but he was nowhere to be found. He was still listed on the official Imbaba police roster, but after the uprising the Ministry of Interior reshuffled several neighborhood police forces — one of its perennial techniques of evading scrutiny. Today in Imbaba, the police roster is comprised largely of officers relocated from
the station two neighborhoods to the south.

“We submitted our complaint to the Public Prosecutor’s Office on February 8 [2011],” explains Nasr’s mother. “Every time I return to follow up, the secretaries tell me to come back later, maybe next week, because they are very busy.”

Mukhtar was wanted by others, not just the Nasr family. The members of the Imbaba Committee for the Defense of the Revolution filed several cases against this notorious officer. “We have a video of Mukhtar in plainclothes standing on a man’s chest to make sure he is dead,” says the Committee’s Salim Muhammad Nasr (no relation). “But they are concentrating on the big ones now.”

In the months that followed, the only officials visiting martyrs’ families in Imbaba were police representatives with offers of tens of thousands of Egyptian pounds to drop the charges, sums equal to several years of income. There were no reports that any family had accepted this grim restitution.

After several slow, uncertain months, the public prosecutor announced in May 2011 that 13 Imbaba officers would face trial. That June the case came before the courts, but the courts adjourned until July. In early July the case was postponed again until September. Again and again, the judiciary kicked the can down the road. The families of martyrs pressed for justice, but their cases languished in local courts for over a year, delayed by a judiciary uncertain which way the political winds were blowing.

In May 2012 the case was relocated from the Giza courthouse to New Cairo, an hour’s drive from Imbaba, for “security reasons.” In a courtroom adjacent to the trial of the disgraced steel magnate Ahmad ‘Izz, a crony of Mubarak’s eldest son, the Imbaba trial seemed finally to be gathering momentum. The Imbaba lawyers presented their case, submitting numerous eyewitness testimonies and video evidence. The defense countered with a twofold argument: First, the Imbaba officers did not have live ammunition that day; second, even if they did, the police shot only to protect the station from marauding protesters. The judge declared his court adjourned, pledging to issue a verdict when it reconvened on June 6.

On the ride back to Imbaba in a cramped microbus, the small volunteer legal team and families of the victims expressed satisfaction with the court proceedings. There was a sense of optimism that the court would actually issue a verdict and that Mukhtar and the other officers would receive some measure of punishment — 2–3 years was the consensus. The optimism about a positive ruling in the near term was buoyed by the looming presidential election. With no candidate a clear favorite in the first round, the influential remnants of the old regime, which had sat on its hands for over a year, suddenly seemed eager to bring the police trials to conclusion before the election. Better to accept any verdict in the current atmosphere than to gamble with an unknown administration — especially one that might be more inclined to press for serious accountability.

On June 2, four days before the Imbaba ruling, the court issued its ruling on the marquee police violence case. In what Egyptian newspapers dubbed “the trial of the century,” Mubarak and his interior minister, Habib al-‘Adli, were found guilty of “not preventing” the deaths of protesters during the January 25 uprising, while the six top deputies at the Ministry of Interior — the men who directed Egypt’s security forces during the 18 days of the uprising — were acquitted on grounds of insufficient evidence. More than 840 revolutionaries were killed, but no one had killed them, according to the court. The ruling sent a clear signal to lower courts across Egypt: Let the police walk. Later that week all the police of Imbaba were ruled innocent, and Muhammad Mukhtar departed the courtroom a free man. In November 2012 Cairo’s final police trial concluded in Sayyida Zaynab. All the accused officers were found innocent.

Waiting for Justice

On the campaign trail, Egypt’s new president, Muhammad Mursi, spoke vividly about the need to purge and transform the security apparatus of the former regime. “We want the love between the people and the army and the police to return,” exclaimed candidate Mursi at a rally in Kafr al-Sheikh, “because unity between the people would protect the people from the beasts that want to eat their flesh.” Whatever reservations Egyptians may have held about the Muslim Brothers, it was believed that after decades of police suppression — including imprisonment, torture and sometimes death — the group would at least push to reorganize and curtail the state security apparatus. Yet, after half a year in power, the Mursi administration’s efforts to challenge the security apparatus have been few and feeble.

“It is simply not their priority,” explained an activist who works heavily on police reform. “In public and in private they have said that the first priority is to stabilize the country and the economy. Then they can proceed with other reforms.” Of course, achieving “stability” — the catch-all justification of Mubarak’s regime — by postponing the police issue is a non-starter when a central grievance of protesters is police conduct, the Ministry of Interior is seen as the primary agent of the counter-revolution and pervasive incompetence in everyday policing duties gridlocks Egyptian cities.

At all turns, while paying lip service to significant police restructuring, Mursi has sought to accommodate the security apparatus. Despite broad calls for independent leadership at the Ministry of Interior, Mursi replaced the SCAF’s interior minister, Muhammad Ibrahim, with Ibrahim’s deputy, Ahmad Gamal al-Din, an insider with an equally tainted reputation. During Gamal al-Din’s tenure unlawful arrests, torture in police custody and military trials have continued unabated. Six days after his swearing-in, Mursi met with families of victims, including the mother of Khalid Sa‘id (whose murder by police officers in June 2010 inspired a movement against police impunity), to offer reassurance that offending officers would face justice. Later that afternoon, Mursi addressed members of the Supreme Council of the Police to offer reassurance of his opposition to “purging the police.” Purging or vetting the police force is a common-sense component of security sector reform and transitional justice, and had been a key component of parliamentary legislation drafted in the wake of the Port Said stadium massacre in February 2012.

Facing Ministry of Interior resistance, however, the legislation stalled in the Brother-led parliament; ultimately, the only police legislation passed before Parliament’s dissolution in June 2012 was an act that raised police salaries. On the subject of purging, the minister of justice told activists in November 2012 that the subject was off the table; instead, he told activists to “purge yourselves of your hatred of the police.”

There is strong official aversion to brooking even the language of transitional justice. In a televised interview, a representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs insisted that activists cease talk of transitional justice, which is suitable for “countries like the Congo, emerging from conflict. Not for countries like Egypt, where we are merely transitioning to democracy.”

Mursi’s hedged approach is encapsulated in the Information and Evidence Collection Fact-Finding Commission, established by presidential decree to investigate violence against demonstrators. The purview of the commission is the period January 2011-June 2012, thus precluding investigation into systemic violence before the revolution and conveniently excluding any activities during Mursi’s tenure, such as the beatings and coerced confessions of activists protesting his constitutional agenda in November and December 2012 — chilling echoes of Mubarak-era tactics. The commission is divided into subcommittees focused on major incidents (the Maspero massacre in October 2011, the Muhammad Mahmoud Street clashes, Port Said stadium), tasked with “exposing the full truth about those involved” and fingering any agency that obstructs the commission’s work. The commission, however, includes representatives from various departments within the military and the Ministry of Interior — precisely the agencies most likely to be named. With reams of information provided by civil society groups, the commission is currently assembling its final report, but it is unclear when it might be released. Regardless the content of the report, it will be up to the discretion of the public prosecutor to pursue any new trials.

And yet, even if the judiciary and security apparatus prevent fair trials in the near term, perhaps the commission’s work will prove to be a useful time capsule. Perhaps the evidence gathered by the commission and by dedicated civil society groups across Egypt will prove instrumental in establishing the record and one day help deliver justice to families still wanting.

In the sparse, borrowed office space where the Imbaba Committee for the Defense of the Revolution gathers, the indefatigable Salim Nasr contemplated the work ahead. “It is difficult. But then again so is everything in Egypt. What can we do but keep on pushing?”

How to cite this article:

Matthew Hall "Police Impunity in Imbaba," Middle East Report 265 (Winter 2012).

For 50 years, MERIP has published critical analysis of Middle Eastern politics, history, and social justice not available in other publications. Our articles have debunked pernicious myths, exposed the human costs of war and conflict, and highlighted the suppression of basic human rights. After many years behind a paywall, our content is now open-access and free to anyone, anywhere in the world. Your donation ensures that MERIP can continue to remain an invaluable resource for everyone.


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