Practical Steps for Police Reform in Egypt
The state of insecurity in Egypt negatively affected all segments of society. The economy, including the invaluable tourism sector, was near complete paralysis. The security situation in Egypt was grave; the crime rate rose sharply and new types of violent crimes emerged.
In light of the January 25, 2011, protests, the actions of the scaf, the mb’s brief rule, and the gravity of the security situation, a number of practical steps can be taken to reform Egypt’s police forces. First, police officers should be deployed to locations where they are most qualified. Former interior minister Adli effectively put in place rules for staff mobility, increased police salaries, and improved the general appearance of police officers. Second, the four-year police academy training system needs to be reviewed and shortened. The main focus needs to shift from law courses to courses that teach specifically designed policing techniques and provide field training. Furthermore, student boarding should not be mandatory since it separates the police from the citizenry and entrenches a military-like socialization incompatible with the civil nature of a police corps. A quota for graduating officers should be determined for each governorate on the basis of its population, allowing the governorate to request an increase in its quota as long as it bears the extra costs for students beyond the government-assigned quota.
Gradually canceling the practice of annexing conscript soldiers to the Central Security Forces, and replacing them with volunteers would also be a positive step forward. Hundreds of thousands of military conscripts without educational qualifications are often recruited to join the Central Security Forces for a three- year period. They are trained and accommodated under extremely harsh living conditions and are given very modest salaries. These conscripts are then sent to the MoI to carry out policing duties without adequate support. Unfortunately, the MoI heavily relies on those conscripts for cheap labor. They live where they work and get a one-week vacation a month. It is also worth noting that the Central Security Forces are quasi-military forces, and their main purpose is to preserve internal order during disturbances. This sector generally incorporates riot police and swat teams. Thus, the MoI relies on police officers without genuine training in modern methods of riot dispersal.
Another helpful reform would be to establish a union to protect the rights of these lower-ranking recruits. This is not a new concept. A precedent has already been set with the establishment of the Police Club, which has an elected board of directors, as a first step in defending officers’ rights. Yet, the representative body is not an independent union and has not met the officers’ needs so far. A totally independent union should be formed to represent the social and economic interests of its members.
On a broader scale, hrw has made several recommendations with regard to allegations of torture. It approached the Egyptian government with a request for the amendment of the definition of torture in Article 126 of the penal code to align it with Article 1 of the Convention against Torture and emphasized the need to make penalties proportionate to the seriousness of the offenses.55 Regarding the Office of the Public Prosecutor, hrw advised that it is crucial to increase the speed and impartiality of all investigations, including those of superiors.56 And regarding the MoI, it demanded the suspension of any law enforcement official directly or indirectly involved in acts of torture or the ill treatment of suspects.57
The government needs to set a higher standard for police conduct. As Richard Ericson points out, “Crime control is an impossible task for the police alone. They are expected to handle a phenomenon caused by social, pol itical, economic, and cultural forces beyond their control and have to give the appearance that things are (more or less) under control” (italics added).58 Reform and dialogue between the government, the police forces, and citizens are necessary; there also needs to be recognition of the responsibilities and limitations of the police in order to improve laws and procedures.59 After decades of repression and brutality, the Mubarak regime squandered its only chance to make peace with the Egyptian people: it shattered the reputation of one of the key national security organs and started a vicious cycle of a love-hate relationship between the police and the people, fueled by political instability and a demand for regime change.