Morsi's promises: First month with nothing to show on security

Sherif Tarek , Wednesday 1 Aug 2012

President Morsi's pledge to re-establish Egypt's fractured domestic security within 100 days is 'unrealistic,' say security experts

President Morsi
President Morsi in a meeting with interim interior minister, Mohamed Ibrahim, and top police commanders (Photo: AP)

The restoration of domestic security promises to pose an especially difficult challenge for President Mohamed Morsi, who has vowed to improve the country's lot within his first hundred days in office.

Morsi's '100-day plan,' in effect since 2 July, was drawn up by Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood – from which he hails – with the aim of ending chronic traffic congestion, fuel shortages, bread scarcities, poor public sanitation and an ongoing security vacuum.

The latter objective – ending domestic insecurity – was not accomplished under the interim governments of prime ministers Essam Sharaf and Kamal El-Ganzouri, both of whom were appointed during the 15-month rule of Egypt's military council, which ceded executive power to Morsi upon his inauguration in June.

With fewer political tensions now than during the transitional period, but with a collapsing national security system that still requires rebuilding, Egypt's new president has promised to re-establish public security within the tight timeframe that he has set for himself.

"My programme has many elements that will guarantee the restoration of security and stability," Morsi stated on 22 July, reflecting his confidence despite perennial hostility between the Brotherhood and police, another factor that could hinder his plan.

The targets of his 100-day plan that pertain to security include pay rises and perks for police personnel, the arrest of thugs still at large, an increased police presence on the street, and better facilities and equipment for law enforcement agencies.

Practically speaking, however, the president's plan has yet to pay any dividends.

Good intentions, no concrete results

The deterioration of domestic security has not seen any positive change within the past month, say security experts.

Ihab Youssef, secretary-general of the People and Police for Egypt, a local NGO, downplayed the anticipated effects of Morsi's security plan. Youssef told Ahram Online: "This programme has no clear outline and no timeline for implementation."

"Objectives like intensifying police patrols or enhancing work conditions for security personnel are no more than good wishes," he added. "These targets aren't accompanied by a thorough plan on how and when they will be applied."

"Some 30 days have now elapsed, and we have yet to see any concrete results," he went on. "And I don't think we'll see any in the remaining 70 days."

Morsi embarked on his 100-day plan immediately after his inauguration, even though the new government has yet to be formed. The incumbent El-Ganzouri cabinet is expected to remain in charge until the formation of a new government, members of which should be officially unveiled on Thursday.

A host of personalities have already been tipped for several ministerial portfolios. The successor to current Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim, however, remains unknown.

"It all depends on the new interior minister and what he will do," said Youssef. "A clear example of faulty planning is the recent countrywide redeployment of police officers, which is based largely on promotions and reassignments."

On Sunday, Ibrahim announced a host of major personnel changes within the ministry, including the promotion, transfer and discharge of large numbers of police chiefs and officers, in what appeared to be an attempt to reshuffle the ministry and its affiliated bodies.

"Why was such a move taken now before the installation of a new interior minister?" Youssef asked. "The new minister should be the one who decides this."

"It's a waste of time and effort since the incoming minister will most probably reshuffle the security apparatus again when he takes over," he said.

"The coming minister, whoever he will be, has to ensure that the interior ministry will be working as an institution. Many of the ministry's men are competent and skillful – regardless of the corrupt figures. They just need to work in a new effective system," Youssef added.

Police and Brotherhood: A new page?

Under the ousted Mubarak regime, the interior ministry routinely used torture at police stations and at the headquarters of the now-dismantled State Security apparatus, which was instrumental in suppressing political freedoms.

The Brotherhood, at the time, was among the groups that bore the brunt of such oppressive Mubarak-era policies, and was thus forced to work underground, barred from freely participating in Egyptian political life.

But after last year's Tahrir Square uprising, the Brotherhood successfully turned the tables on their former oppressors.

Once denied political representation, the group realised their first objective by establishing the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP). The FJP subsequently captured roughly half the seats in the People's Assembly, the lower house of Egypt's parliament that was later dissolved on orders of the military.

After it was deprived of parliament, the Brotherhood fielded a candidate – Morsi – in Egypt's first post-Mubarak presidential election, which he won. After Morsi's assumption of power, however, the group has been accused of co-ruling the country.

Sceptics are convinced that many leading interior ministry officials, who used to deal harshly with the Brotherhood as a "banned" group, will have serious reservations about taking orders from a Brotherhood-affiliated president.

When asked about the issue, a captain from the ministry's Central Security Forces (CSF), who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Ahram Online: "I might agree or disagree with the president, but that will not affect my work in any way."

"If officers fail to follow orders, they will either be punished or expelled," he added. "They must keep their personal political beliefs aside."

Youssef, for his part, opined: "It has yet to be seen how things will turn out between the Brotherhood and police. I'm sure the latter are watching the Brotherhood, waiting to see what the group will do in terms of pushing reshuffles, relocations and dismissals [within the interior ministry]."

He went on: "And no doubt the Brotherhood is also watching the police, waiting to see whether they will act in accordance with Morsi's plan to restore security."

Winning over the public

Egypt's domestic security has significantly deteriorated since last year's uprising, which saw fierce clashes – resulting in hundreds of deaths – between Mubarak's police forces and anti-regime protesters.

Over the course of the 18-day revolt, the CSF attempted to forcibly disperse demonstrators with teargas and live ammunition in Cairo's Tahrir Square – the focal point of the uprising – and in other squares across the country, earning the ire of large swathes of the public.

Youssef believes that a degree of reconciliation must be achieved between the police and the people – not just the Brotherhood, which took part in the uprising – in order to turn a new page after years of Mubarak-era police abuse.

"The authorities must make an effort to let bygones be bygones and end the ongoing hostility between the public and police," he said. "But this has not happened yet."

For his part, former Major-General Mohamed Kadry Saied, a strategic and military analyst at the Cairo-based Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, told Ahram Online: "The police must understand that the situation seen under the former regime will not be repeated."

"Police can no longer persecute or abuse certain factions – the Brotherhood, the leftists or anyone else – or deal with people based on their political affiliations," Saied added. "But this will take time."

He went on: "It will also take time to change the longstanding modus operandi on the part of police. Morsi must sit down with specialists to ensure that his security plan is effectively implemented. While he will, of course, have the final say as president, teamwork will be crucial in this regard."

A new reality

Led by notorious former interior minister Habib El-Adly, the police under Mubarak had enjoyed unfettered powers, earning them a reputation for brutality – for which they were seldom held to account. They were helped in this regard by a longstanding Emergency Law, maintained for the duration of Mubarak's 30-year rule, granting police wide-ranging powers of arrest and detention.

"Working under such an Emergency Law is not natural, yet it was enforced for over three decades," said Youssef.

Following the revolution, however, the police have since lost their imposing status, while in May of this year the reviled Emergency Law was finally abolished once and for all.

In order for Morsi's plan to succeed, the police – still unsure of themselves in the wake of the uprising and now operating without the Emergency Law – now have 70 days left to restore security and win over the public.

According to the CSF captain, the task at hand appears insurmountable.

"Before Morsi put this plan into effect, he should have worked on encouraging law enforcement through media campaigns," he said. "The role of the media is crucial here, since criminals in many cases no longer fear the police."

On the Emergency Law, he said: "This would never be a problem; it was the State Security that used to enforce it, not the normal police who have the authority to arrest culprits caught in the act without the Emergency Law. But again, the problem remains that law is not enforced properly these days."

Law enforcement and torture were by far interrelated during the Mubarak rule, when policemen normally used to abuse detainees to get confessions.

Police torture, although vastly reduced since last year's uprising, continues to occasionally rear its ugly head. The most recent case was that of Ahmed Abdel-Nabi, who was allegedly beaten to death at a Cairo Police station in July after being arrested for suspected carjacking.  

"The problem of police torture is much worse in the countryside, where police have greater scope to abuse their powers," said the CSF captain. "But it's much less common in Cairo."

"Security can be restored," he added, "without resorting to torture or other police excesses."

A hodgepodge of security problems

In the year and a half since Mubarak's ouster, Egypt has suffered from a variety of security-related problems.

Pervasive acts of thuggery and the spread of firearms on the black market have both contributed to the sense of insecurity. According to media reports, the crime rate has soared, although there are no official statistics to confirm this.

In the months following the collapse of Mubarak's security apparatus, thefts, premeditated murders, mob assaults – even lynchings – were reported with disturbing frequency. Later on, carjackings and kidnappings, too, became increasingly common.

According to Saied, the situation has yet to improve since Morsi began implementing his plan.

"Very little has changed; all these crimes are still committed regularly," he said. "In some rural areas, people still live in fear to the extent that they pay thugs large amounts of money to protect their properties."

Saied added: "The only improvement was felt after political tensions subsided following Morsi's inauguration, after which protests and clashes in and around Tahrir Square tapered off."

During most of its stay in power, Egypt's military council faced widespread criticism for using of deadly force – by both army and police – against protesters, hauling civilians before military courts, and ignoring outstanding revolutionary demands.

While political demonstrations have stopped for the most part since the military council relinquished executive power, tensions "could reignite with new parliamentary polls and an upcoming constitutional referendum," said Saied.

The CSF captain concluded by advising the new president to extend his timeframe for restoring security to one thousand days. "If Morsi is serious about re-establishing security, I – and all police officers, as well as the public for that matter – will support him," he said.

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