There is no hope of establishing a democratic system in Egypt unless the security sector is reformed. And there is no hope of security reform if it is left up for security officials. This is the conclusion reached by academic Dr. Omar Ashour in his study on reforming the security sector. I found out that using the content of this study has become useful after rumors on changing the fifth interior minister (since the revolution) spread and after news came out on police protests either calling to be armed to confront protests and attacks or calling to improve the situation.
This is unlike the scattered news of activists and protesters subject to torture.
This is in addition to other evidence which indicates that the police institution in its current situation is still closer to how it was during Mubarak’s regime than it is to the revolution’s values and atmosphere. I do not want to underestimate the efforts made to reform this institution especially that around 670 prominent officers (of which 505 are major generals) were dismissed by making them retired. Different efforts were also made by consecutive ministers to carry out reform. I also do not deny the efforts and initiatives (around ten) made by several parties that included some officers along with people representing civil society. What is constant until now that this did not lead to substantial change in the police institution’s performance. The police’s sins have not been washed away.
What is also constant is that officials responsible for torture and humiliation whether before or after the revolution have not been punished for the crimes they committed (although there is no comparison in the range of torture before and after the revolution. Torture was a rule before the revolution and an exception after it.) Officers were exonerated in 36 lawsuits out of 39 lawsuits filed after the revolution against police officers accused of killing protesters. The other three lawsuits still await court’s rulings.
The experience of the two years following the revolution proved that reforming the police apparatus requires more radical and deeper solutions. The efforts made to reform the police apparatus were not enough to achieve the desired aim. After all, it is not easy to change the identity and culture of an apparatus that includes 1.5 million people who lived in the shadow of an emergency law and practiced suppression, forgery and assaults against people’s dignity and laws’ sanctities for more than three decades.
One of the solutions the researcher calls for to resolve the complications of the police apparatus is submitting it to a civil leadership along with establishing a clear legal frame to specify the specializations of security apparatuses (specializations of state security services – national security – are mysterious. This is the only sector which its internal structure was not listed on the interior ministry’s website.)
Following the death of Dictator General Franco in 1975 in Spain, the police was gradually put under civil leadership. In the 1990’s, South Africa resorted to establishing an inclusive plan for national defense and to establishing a new professional identity for the members of intelligence along with setting up a code of ethics confirming commitment to democratic values, respecting human rights and holding on to political neutrality. In the late 1990’s, Indonesia cancelled the militarization of the police and placed security apparatuses under popular supervision through three parliamentary committees. In 2004, Georgia also cancelled the militarization of the police and civil politicians held posts of the interior minister, interior minister’s deputy and head of intelligence. The interior ministry also signed a memorandum of understanding with human rights organizations to monitor jails and detention facilities, etc.
The political dimension
In general, security apparatuses which are extremely professional in countries where democracy is solid are monitored by external civil parties. This is the case with the Intelligence and Security Committee in the British parliament and the Security Intelligence Review Committee in the Canadian parliament. These committees usually have the authority to view information linked to the activity of intelligence apparatuses, and they submit reports on this activity to either the government or the parliament.
The researcher warns that reforming the security sector is a political process of a first degree. This political dimension may be behind the success or the failure of the entire political plan. The authority of civil institutions – which represent the popular will – on the armed security sector represents the real separation between democratic regimes and authoritarian ones.
One of the recommendations mentioned in the study of Doctor Ashur, who is a teacher at the University of Exeter in Britain and a researcher at Brookings Doha Center, is: establishing a presidential committee specialized with reforming the security sector, establishing mechanisms of effective monitoring for the security sector, guaranteeing the training of parliament members to monitor security institutions, purging the interior ministry and the office of the attorney general, altering the standards for promotions in the interior ministry, carrying out a complete review for the curricula and rules of training at the police academy, restructuring the interior ministry and decreasing the number of its employees, formulating a new law for the police and training central security forces on non-fatal methods to confront riots.
These are not the last of statements on the issue, but they are jurisprudence that can be amended and discussed. Jurisprudences are definitely important but what is more important is the desire to reform and the ability to achieve this reform. Without desire and ability, jurisprudence becomes some sort of blabber that does not change anything at all.
This article first appeared in the Egypt-based al-Shourouk.
Dr. Fahmy Howeidy has worked in journalism since 1958 for Egypt's Al-Ahram Foundation. He is currently the Deputy Editor-in-Chief of the Al-Ahram newspaper. Previously, Howeidy served as the Managing Editor of Kuwait's Al-Arabi magazine and of Arabia magazine, which is published in London, UK in English. He is now fully dedicated to contributing to Al-Ahram and has a column each Tuesday published in six Arab countries in Asharq Al-Awsat, Al-Majalla, and Al-Wafd Newspaper. Howeidy has had seventeen books published, including: The Quran and the Sultan, Awareness Forgery, In Order Not to be A Sedition, Islam in China, Iran from the Inside, Taliban, Establishing Due Rights, and The Crisis of Religious Awareness. Howeidy is a specialist in Arab and Islamic affairs.