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EGYPT: Some wonder if police elements are sowing violence to justify crackdown

January 31, 2011 |  6:35 am


With lawlessness and violence is gripping Egyptian cities, many are wondering whether shadowy elements in the nation's police forces loyal to President Hosni Mubarak are behind the violence in an attempt to justify a harsh crackdown in the name of security.

According to some analysts, such a move is a page right out of the dictator's handbook, a classic maneuver employed by tyrants since the time of Rome. 

"This is an unwritten rule regarding the nature of urban war and uprisings, and it's to gain the power over the street," said Theodore Karasik, of the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, a think tank in Beirut and Dubai.

Police have behaved similarly during unrest in the Middle East.

In Iran, as demonstrators broke out against the marred reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009, police and plainclothes security officials could be seen smashing shop windows, cars and motorcycles, breaking windows and kicking in doors, later blaming the violence on "rioters."

In Tunisia earlier this month, videos posted to YouTube showed riot police smashing windows of ordinary citizens. Even after Tunisian dictator Zine el Abidine ben Ali fled the country, his henchmen began rampaging through the streets, opening fire on ordinary people and spreading rumors of impending violence.

"I think its commonplace, more commonplace than we believe," Karasik said in an interview. "In the past, this type of thug behavior was also present in Latin American countries and is a systemic part of what used to be called Third World militaries."

But Karasik warned that such tactics could backfire: Other security or military units could see what's happening and intervene, setting up a dangerous confrontation between competing armed forces. Or, the chaos could sow even more anarchy when actual criminals begin joining in, pushing the situation out of control.

-- Borzou Daragahi in Beirut

Photo: Anti-goverment protesters clash with police Friday in Suez, Egypt. Credit Abu Salahuddien /Associated Press