A Guide to Egypt's Challenges: The Interior Ministry

Bassem Sabry , Thursday 16 Aug 2012

Bassem Sabry provides a multi-pronged overview of the political, economic and social challenges facing Egypt's first post-Mubarak president, with an emphasis on the everyday problems facing average Egyptians

Interior Ministry
Interior Ministry (Photo: Mai Shaheen)

The strong-arm of the Mubarak regime has largely avoided public pressures for radical reform.

Despite a 22 May verdict that saw five policemen handed prison sentences and two officers given suspended sentences, not a single officer or soldier has been convicted on charges of killing protesters during the revolution. This remains a major source of political controversy.
Advocates point to the case of Georgia, the tiny country which after its own Rose Revolution saw widescale reforms that eventually led to an 81 per cent rate of trust in the police, according to a 2010 survery. This put the country's law enforcers closely behind the church and the army in terms of public trust.
There have been some changes, however. In July of 2011 and July 2012, the Ministry of Interior enacted the two largest reshuffles in its history. 
Nearly 4,000 officers (representing 10 per cent of the force) were moved and/or promoted in each reshuffle. The higher ranks of the leadership saw substantial changes, while around 900 generals were forced to retired or had their service ended. 
In June 2012, the police force was granted significant pay-rises averaging around 30 per cent, according to rough calculations. The theoretical aim was to boost morale and combat corruption by improving the financial conditions of staff.
There are traditional questions over how to ensure greater civilian dominance and oversight of the Interior Ministry as well as how an entity previously tasked with containing Islamists will co-exist with an Islamist-led political environment and process.
But there are other public concerns.
The first is the reestablishment of police on the Egyptian streets. This has already started to happen to a limited extent, but the restoration of the feeling of genuine public security remains lacking.
The second demand -- one often repeated in discussions about reform --- has been the development of the police force itself. There are widespread calls to improve its technical and methodological capabilities and tactical training, as well as introduce more modern forensic and investigative techniques. 
Next comes the need to improve the general tone of interactions between citizens and the ministry, from normal encounters with officers in the street to the processing of official paperwork at ministry-run institutions. 
The eradication of corruption within the police force and the ministry remains a major talking point. So, too, is using whatever is left of Egypt's current momentum for reform to end the use of kind of torture or human rights violations by the police or prison services. The protection of human rights should also be enshrined in the code of conduct of these institutions.
Despite the gloom, some other statistics are worth mentioning here.
According to the International Centre For Prison Studies, Egypt has an estimated total prison population of around 66,000, including those in temporary custody or pending trial. This is almost the same as France and Germany, the latter of which has a similar population size to Egypt.
This puts Egypt in 26th place when it comes to its per capita prison population. The United States, by contrast, has more than 2 million inmates from a population of 311 million, putting it in first place.
Another interesting -- although controversial -- figure from a post-revolution Gallup poll held bwteen July and August 2011 showed that, while Egyptians felt less secure than before the revolution, the actual percentage who said they had been the victims of theft was 8 per cent -- down from 13 per cent in November 2010.
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