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Can private firms solve Egypt's security problem?

Without proper regulation and training, experts say private security firms will play a limited role in maintaining order in Egypt

Sherif Tarek , Saturday 1 Nov 2014
Universities
Universities in Egypt with security firm Falcon carrying out on-campus searches. (Photo: Reuters)
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Recent clashes between students and private security guards at a number of Egyptian universities have raised questions about the latter's growing role in the country.

Falcon is a private security firm that has stationed crews at a dozen universities across Egypt after being hired by the higher education ministry. The company hit the headlines for the wrong reasons when its personnel got involved in violence at Cairo's Al-Azhar University, where students were protesting revamped security measures and the detention of their colleagues at previous protests.

The firm's task at universities is part of a greater role for Falcon and other similar companies across the country of late. On the other side of the coin, President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi recently issued a decree enabling military forces to assist police with security at state institutions.

Experts say such measures seem sensible despite the widespread impression that security has improved compared to the years that followed the 2011 revolution.

"The police have increased responsive measures commendably of late, but only because circumstances are relatively better. That doesn't mean they have worked towards establishing preemptive security, which we've not had in a very long time," Mahmoud Kotri, a former brigadier general and security expert, told Ahram Online.

Since the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013, the authorities have been cracking down robustly on his supporters, who have been staging protests that usually end in clashes with either police or civilian opponents.

The clampdown, which now includes non-Islamist opposition as well, has brought calm to the streets. This has given the police a respite, but on the other hand they have been targeted by occasional militant attacks.

However, the police have not changed their "obsolete" tactics, according to Kotri.

"The interior ministry still doesn't have a clear strategy, and its lack of efficiency has led to a rise in private security firms.

"But likewise, these companies cannot be deemed competent by any means."

There are no clear regulations to launch such companies and to ensure their competence, nor a comprehensive legal frame for them to operate within.

Establishing security firms is not entirely regulated by specific laws, while their personnel have no legal authority, explained Ihab Youssef, head of private security services company Risk Free.

"If one of them got into an altercation with someone while trying to protect the establishment where he's deployed, both of them would be treated equally by the law, like any two civilians who fight in the street," Youssef explained.

"They have no authority and there are absolutely no official training programmes for them. Those who apply for firearm licenses receive the same training as anyone else."

"For decades, security firm personnel were mainly used for organisational purposes, for example in embassies, banks and private clubs. They used to work inside premises but only recently were they pushed closer towards the gate to assume a greater role as security guards, like is happening at universities."

There are around 600 private security firms operating in Egypt, according to Youssef, who stressed they could be a pivotal addition to the security apparatus if they operated in a more systematic manner.

"In other countries, private companies contribute to securing airports for instance. But they also get support from the government, and their roles are clear and regulated."

Kotri concluded: "Private security companies could supplement the official security apparatus, but in order for that to happen the police first must be operating strongly and systematically. Only then will private companies, with proper regulation and preparation, be of a great help."

"Security firms must be directly affiliated to the interior ministry, which should provide training for their personnel. But of course that is not the case; the ministry doesn't have that capacity to begin with."

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