Imposing Security Services By Any Other Name

The burnt Ministry of the Interior in Cairo

Almost six months after the Egyptian people shocked the world by forcibly ending the 30 year reign of Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian revolution is still murky and far from complete. Indeed, the removal of Mubarak from power was only the beginning of the struggle for the Egyptian people. Currently, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) is charged with running the country and managing its transition to democracy. Unfortunately, however, SCAF has done little to meet the needs and demands of the Egyptian people. Consequently, Egypt is experiencing a stalled revolution and is risking sliding back into authoritarianism under a difference façade.

After the initial shock of Mubarak’s removal wore off, it became increasingly easy to understand that SCAF has few intentions of proactively meeting the demands of the millions of protesters. Indeed, the Egyptian armed forces seem to be more inclined to act as a manager of an Egyptian transition not to democracy, but rather to a different sort of authoritarian rule. The decision of SCAF to keep the brutal and hated security apparatus of Mubarak immune from real reform is a clear indication that the ruling force has not made any effort to promote democratic change. Indeed, true reform of the security sector in Egypt will be the most important revolutionary step for the country.

In order to transform Egypt into a democracy, severe and fundamental changes must take place; specifically, the Egyptian people must demand a complete overhaul of the security sector – reform that has been completely absent under SCAF. Reforming the security structure is imperative for the Egyptian people. Although the far reaching state security has been reigned in under SCAF, it remains omnipresent throughout Egyptian society. Additionally, the interim government has so far refused to put an end to military tribunals and the emergency law has remained in effect (although SCAF seems committed to repealing the law). Egyptians must demand that the government and the security sector be based completely and solely on the rule of law. Under the Mubarak regime, Egyptians suffered under the heavy hand of the State Security Investigations Services (SSIS) and the Central Security Forces (CSF), both of which were established not to protect the rule of law, but to ensure the sustainability of the regime by crushing dissent. The result was evident in the fiercest days of the revolution: suspected dissidents were mistreated, heavy-handed techniques were normal, and torture and human rights violations were the norm. An end to these brutal practices should be the most important goal of the revolutionaries.

Though SCAF has made superficial attempts to placate the demands of the protesters concerning the security structure, it has not made any moves towards fundamental reform. SCAF has fired several hundred high level officers, proceeded with the trials of several state security members who are accused of murdering protesters, and, of course, changed the name of the SSIS. Yet none of these measures are able to truly tackle the structure of or culture surrounding the state security.

The overhaul of one of the most entrenched aspects of Egyptian society will take many years to complete, but it is essential if Egypt is to become a free democracy. As of now, SCAF has shown little interest in undertaking such reforms. Likewise, until certain steps are taken by SCAF to push this comprehensive reform, the Egyptian revolution will be incomplete, resembling authoritarian transition instead of real change. A number of specific steps must be taken to ensure that SCAF is committed to such comprehensive reform – placing the hated Ministry of the Interior under civilian control, for example. While SCAF is preparing for elections and a new constitution, nothing will be as important to the revolution as security sector reform. Until SCAF takes firm steps towards this end, the Egyptian revolution will remain stalled.

Photo from Chris Keeler, 2011

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