Reforming the Egyptian Security Services

A Review of the Press, Conventional Wisdom and Rumours

This paper is part of a multi-country research project and policy dialogues on the challenges of security sector reform in the Arab World

Since President Mubarak was forced to step down, the reform of the security sector has become a major challenge and a matter of debate in Egypt.

Tewfick Aclimandos offers an in-depth analysis based on his exclusive expertise of the Egyptian security sector and knowledge of its intricacies. Using public sources, press reports and rumors to document his analysis, he takes an unconventional perspective on the sector and suggests directions for engaging in a process of reform. Among those:

that while the involvement of citizens in the discussion on reforming the sector is necessary, the reform process will only succeed if it is conducted by one or a few key players in the field with the expertise and legitimacy in the eyes of members of the targeted bodies – namely by highly respected professionals of the sector;

that financial oversight and control over the security institutions will require the institutionalization of the assessment process, and that an interim measure could be to entrust special commissions of former senior leaders from the security agencies with the task;

that given that most security officers have only worked under the emergency law, it is most urgent to establish the rule of law into the sector. However, given the nature of the new security challenges and the legal problems they raise, it may be necessary to enact repressive legislation, at least as a first step;

that even though less urgent, the problem of the social fabric of the security services is a key dimension to tackle. A policy of positive discrimination of some sort is imperative so that at least some young people from disadvantaged classes are admitted to the Military Academy or the Academy of Police, allowing for a gradual change in practices and prejudices;

that NCOs in the army and amîn shurta in the police are vital echelons whose training should be carefully revised and that their superiors should be made aware of the arduous and crucial nature of their work; hence new systems for internal promotion need to be considered;

that the suppression of corruption should not be entrusted to the army, the mukhâbarât, the new State Security or the special courts answerable to them. These have too many tasks already, and fighting corruption requires specific training.

To the crucial question about how to loosen the stranglehold of these institutions over the Egyptian society, Aclimandos replies that it is not possible to reform a regime or institutions by asking them to commit suicide or even giving that impression. As he argues, it is not (only) through reforming these apparatuses that the relations between them, society and other State institutions will be modified. SSR will also require developing other institutions capable of carrying out the same duties, rationalising the performance of the entire State apparatus, putting in place an effective education system, etc, all tasks that will require a great deal of determination and energy.

The views represented in this paper are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Arab Reform Initiative, its staff, or its board.