Sunday, July 17, 2011

Assuring Accountability for the Egyptian Security Sector

Egyptian Police on Trial for Killing Protesters
Egypt’s revolutionary youth recognize the importance of reforming the security sector to the future of Egypt. Their targets have included the police, prisons, State Security, Ministry of Interior and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). Yet they have yet to develop an integrated view of the security sector. They do not yet have a clear vision on how the security sector must evolve to meet the needs of the Egyptian people and be accountable to them. Such a vision could be based on the concept of security sector reform (SSR), an idea that developed from the realization by many governments, academics, civil society actors and donors that strengthening law and order and security must be integrated with efforts to promote democratic development.

Attempts to Rein in the Security Sector

Prior to the January 25 revolution, anger against the police and state security had been mounting for decades. Under the emergency law, police abused human rights, tortured suspects and political opponents, and were free to engage in corruption. Some judges followed the dictates of the Ministry of Interior on important cases.  Prisons held thousands of political prisoners. State Security was omnipresent, intimidating anyone who could potentially challenge the ruling party.  Retired military leaders held major government positions and served as centrally appointed governors for many governorates. The military gained control of large portions of the economy through investments in key sectors. Civil society had no effective power to challenge abuses of these security sector institutions. The media had limited ability to analyze and report on them. The Parliament, captured by the ruling National Democratic Party, was too weak and disinterested to provide effective oversight.

Anger about the population’s treatment by security forces helped inspire activists to organize the first revolutionary demonstrations on Police Day, the day set aside to celebrate the police.  Over the next 18 days, police killed perhaps 800 protestors and wounded thousands more.  State Security facilitated attacks on protestors by thugs. Many police stations were burned, and prisons attacked.  Several days into the demonstrations, the Ministry of Interior, hoping to turn the population against the protestors, removed police from the streets. An ensuing crime wave forced residents to form neighborhood protection committees, in recognition that State Security had turned against the population and that the police were not serving their needs. Since February, the number of police on the streets has not increased to its previous levels, and many police have been reluctant to take steps to control crime. Individual safety has deteriorated significantly.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces ordered President Mubarak to give up power on February 11. Protestors welcomed this step, declaring that they had complete trust in the military.  In February and March, the military stationed soldiers, tanks and other equipment in sensitive areas.  Hundreds of protestors were arrested and tried by military, rather than civilian courts. Some of those arrested complained of torture. Protestors attacked State Security Offices and retrieved files kept on political dissidents.  Recognizing the rage of the population over mistreatment by State Security, the Minister of Interior announced the dissolution of the Agency, to be replaced by an organization called National Security, with the sole mandate of addressing terrorism. 

Demonstrators and their families grew increasingly frustrated at delays in prosecuting those police identified as killing protestors.  In early July, demonstrators were outraged when a judge ordered the release on bail of seven police accused of killing protestors in the town of Suez.  Police then used tear gas and force against the family members of those killed, after some of them were excluded from a memorial service. Consequently, activists organized the second phase of the revolution, when hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to express their displeasure at the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and the Prime Minister.  The SCAF, in turn, vowed not to interfere with trials, in order to protect judicial independence. However, they recognized that justice must be expedited. In mid-July, the Ministry of Interior reshuffled about 4,000 police, including those held responsible for the killing of protestors and those believed to be corrupt. About 500 police generals and 150 senior officers were forced to take early retirement.  The Minister declared this reshuffle the largest in Egypt’s history.

Security Sector Reform

Transformation of the security sector is based on the understanding that people need safety and security through services that are accountable to them and protect their human rights. It also recognizes that the state needs to be protected from attack beyond its frontiers, but that military and intelligence services must operate within the rule of law. Safety and security require not only competent police, but also effective prosecutors and independent judges committed to the rule of law.  The aim is to reform security forces and services so they have clear and appropriate roles; adequate resources, training and incentives to achieve them; and operate in a manner that is both transparent and accountable to those they serve.  Security sector reform also requires empowerment of civil society, the media and Parliament, so that they provide appropriate oversight and demand accountability.  Where there are non-state security forces such as militias and thugs, SSR requires their removal or strict control.  An effective security sector requires common expectations and effective coordination by elected leaders, security forces and services, civil society and the media.   A good reference on security sector reform is “Safety, Security and Accessible Justice,” prepared by United Kingdom Department for International Development in July 2002,

In Egypt, the security sector requires reform desperately.  With support from international donors, military leaders, police and prosecutors have been trained on human rights and anti-corruption.  Such training is far from sufficient. The country requires a major transformation of the culture and institutions of the police and intelligence services, as well as clarification of the roles of the military and the prosecutors. In addition, judges need to be protected from interventions from security services and the executive branch.  The military has had difficulty playing its temporary role of leading the government overtly.  After elections, it will have an opportunity to focus more on national defense. However, it should remove itself from all aspects of governance, including withdrawing retired military leaders from high government positions.  Ideally, it should also give up control of its economic investments, which enables it to operate without civilian control. The new Parliament must gain an understanding of what to expect from the security sector, how to use the budget as a tool to control it, and how to use its capacity to summon officials to provide close oversight.  The media requires improved investigative journalism skills. Civil society organizations also need to be clear about what they expect from the security sector.  They should organize a movement to promote the sector’s reform and sustain efforts to monitor its transformation.  

Initiating Security Sector Reform in Egypt

With each institution requiring so much attention, it is difficult to determine where to start.  Revolutionary youth and political party and civil society leaders are in a good position to initiate the process, although implementation will require close coordination with elected leaders and each service.  All of these actors need to develop a deep understanding of security sector reform. To facilitate dialogue, Egyptian research institutes, with help from retired security sector officials, should undertake analyses of each service.  Each analysis should focus on the service’s current and desired role, culture, leadership, information system, inspection, incentive structure and customer service. In addition, it should assess the service’s coordination, transparency, accountability, and commitment to the rule of law and human rights.  Such studies will enable those outside the government to raise questions and identify issues that must be addressed by elected leaders and the services themselves. Further, these assessments will provide the basis for oversight by civil society, the media and Parliament as the process of security sector reform continues.

One methodology for a Security Sector Reform assessment is provided by USAID in its “Interagency Security Sector Assessment Framework,” October 2010,   Egyptian researchers have made some initial efforts to assess the security sector in the post-revolutionary period. (See “Egyptian Security Sector Reforms,” Mohamed Kadry Said and Noha Bakr, January 2011, and “Reforming the Egyptian Security Services,” Tewfick Aclimandos, June 2011,

Security sector reform will not take place overnight in Egypt.  However, common awareness of the objectives and required process will keep the issue alive for the many years that will be required for these transformations to occur.   The benefits to Egyptian citizens and civilian leaders will be evident early on, while security sector personnel will gradually become more comfortable with their new roles.
Rick Gold
cross-posted in Secular Perspectives

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