Two days after an uprising toppled strongman Hosni Mubarak, Cairo's citizens were treated to a bizarre sight on Sunday when the police who had protected his regime launched protests of their own.
More than 1,000 police marched on their employer, the interior ministry, to demand pay rises, perks and that their former boss -- sacked interior minister Habib al-Adly -- be dragged into a public place and summarily executed.
With his own boss, Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, telling the cabinet that his top priority is the restoration of order, new interior minister Mahmud Wagdy quickly put together a raft of concessions, but not before trouble broke out.
Egyptian troops fired warning shots as one policeman's teeth were smashed in during a scuffle. A tank and an armoured personnel carrier moved in to support the soldiers defending the ministry.
A delegation met Wagdy, who agreed to double both living allowances and the number of rank and file cops promoted to be officers. He also agreed that no police will be tried in military courts for "administrative infractions." Wagdy further agreed to allow junior ranks to seek treatment in police hospitals, a coveted perk hitherto reserved for senior officers, and to reinstate police who have been sacked for administrative reasons.
The protesters at first appeared mollified, but then demanded that the statement be read out on state television. About 500 maintained their noisy protest, hoping to win concrete salary advances.
Earlier, the police had made their way to the ministry chanting: "Habib, you know you will be executed in the public square!"
Egypt's police are broadly despised and seen as a brutal and corrupt force, while the military has been embraced by the protesters who forced president Hosni Mubarak out of office on Friday.
But the police protesters insisted they had been ordered to deal harshly with the uprising by Mubarak's security services, and argued that they were underpaid by their corrupt government masters.
An 18 year veteran of the force who gave his name as Ahmed said that Adly should be "executed in a public square," and claimed: "The security service ordered us to use all means necessary to halt the demonstrations." "We are not traitors," the police chanted.
Rank and file officer Mustafa Abdulsader told AFP at the scene: "Our brothers were at the protests." Another group of policemen, one bearing a bunch of flowers, tried to show solidarity with the remaining anti regime protesters occupying Tahrir Square, but they were rebuffed amid scuffles and insults.
"Nobody is happy to see the police in Tahrir," said Fadi al-Masri, a 26 year old pharmacist and activist. "They are here only because the army is around. They killed three of my friends. I want to throw stones at them."
When the uprising broke out, police launched a harsh crackdown before withdrawing from the streets altogether, triggering looting and vigilantism. State security forces arrested dissidents and journalists, and there were credible and widespread reports of torture.
When pro regime thugs launched a deadly attack on the protest, many said they were police in plain clothes. "I've worked in the police force for seven years, I make only 664 pounds ($112) a month and I've got two kids. How can I support them? The senior officers get all sorts of perks," said Mohammed Ramadan.
Egypt's state prosecutor has banned the ex interior minister Adly from travelling and frozen his assets, amid widespread complaints of graft and human rights abuses at his ministry. The state news agency MENA said the asset freeze applied to Adly was linked to the transfer of some four million Egyptian pounds ($675,000, 500,000 euros) from a private contractor to his personal account.