Al-Ahram Weekly Online   26 January - 1 February 2012
Issue No. 1082
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Lest we forget

25 January still has another meaning, writes Nesmahar Sayed

When former president Hosni Mubarak declared 25 January an official holiday in 2009, he could never have imagined that this would be the day on which a revolution would overturn him and his regime. Mubarak originally chose this day to commemorate the memory of the 50 police officers killed and the 80 others wounded by British forces on 25 January 1952, when they refused to yield to British demands to surrender the police post in Ismailia on the west bank of the Suez Canal.

The city was founded by the Khedive Ismail, after whom it was named, in 1863 during the construction of the Suez Canal. On Friday, 25 January 1952, at dawn Egyptian police officers in the city heard movements in the streets and were told that British troops had surrounded the city. Police captains Mustafa Refaat and Abdel-Masih Morqos went to the governorate building, and captain Mustafa Ashiub and lieutenant Fouad El-Dali went to the hospital cantonment, discovering on arrival that both governorate building and hospital cantonment had been surrounded by British forces.

At 7am that morning the British troops opened fire, and at 10am the then minister of the interior, Fouad Serageddin, spoke to captain Refaat on the phone, being told that morale was high and the Egyptian police were defending the buildings from attack. The British commander demanded that the policemen surrender the buildings, but Refaat answered that the buildings would be taken only "over our dead bodies". Following further bombardment and the deaths of many Egyptian policemen, the buildings were demolished by the British. Photographs of the scene were published in the newspapers, causing anti-British demonstrations across Egypt.

Almost 60 years later, on 25 January 2011, demonstrations took place in Cairo and in many other Egyptian cities, this time to protest against abuses by the Egyptian police. Photographs of Khaled Said, a young man killed in Alexandria by the police, were distributed during the demonstrations, acting as the catalyst that ignited the revolution. However, the parallels do not stop there. On 26 January 1952, one day after the Ismailia events, Cairo was set on fire by unknown hands, and on 28 January 2011, a few days after the demonstration on the 25th, police stations across Egypt were burned down by demonstrators angry at police abuses.

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