News / Middle East

Security Service Reform Elusive Three Years After Arab Spring

Riot police take their positions near the site of a series of explosions in front of Cairo University April 2, 2014
Riot police take their positions near the site of a series of explosions in front of Cairo University April 2, 2014
Mohamed Elshinnawi
The Arab Spring was many things, but at its core it was a region-wide reaction against the oppressive behavior and impunity by security services across the Arab World. 

In Tunisia Mohammed Bouazizi’s self-immolation, which sparked the first Arab Spring revolt, was triggered by harassment and humiliation at the hands of a local police officer.

The uprising in Egypt started as a protest on Police Day by activists outraged over the killing of internet activist Khaled Said who died in police custody and anger over police conduct during parliamentary elections in November and December of 2010.

But now three years after the Arab Spring revolts led to governmental changes in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen there are few signs of improvement.  Omar Ashour, a fellow at the Brookings Doha Center says reforms are long overdue.

“Targeting abuse, eradicating torture and ending the impunity of the security services while imposing effective and meaningful elected-civilian control of both the armed forces and the security establishments,” are all measures that have yet to achieved he said. 

But Ashour says carrying out those reforms in a polarized political environment is difficult. 

“Extreme political polarization can lead to the politicization of the reform process as well as to political violence. Reform also faces internal resistance, spoiler tactics by anti-reform factions within the security sector, and the limited capacity and resources of the newly elected governments,” he said.

An outline for reform

Experts say security sector reform needs two objectives; oversight and accountability over security services, and an improvement in the delivery of security and justice services.

Thomas Dempsey, Chair for security studies at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies in Washington says achieving those objectives requires a change in culture.
 
“We have a set of institutions that developed to serve repressive regimes, so reforming security needs to include changing their institutional culture, their value system, the way they interact with citizens that they are intended to serve,” he said.

Dempsey adds that security sector reform is not a substitute for political reform and unless the Arab Spring countries address fundamental issues of governance and democratization, human rights will continue to suffer.

Mohamed Abdel Dayem, Senior Associate for Middle East and North Africa at the International Center for Transitional Justice says what’s needed above all else is leadership. 

“Political will is crucial in order for the leadership to be willing to devote the necessary resources whether technical or financial. Unfortunately this political will did not exist in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen,” he said.

Civilian oversight difficult

Ashour of Brookings says Arab Spring countries have security services with long traditions and legacies and civilian oversight is something they have never had to contend with. 

“In Egypt you have a military that sees itself as the founder of the republic, so since 1954 it became above any oversight. In Libya and Yemen, you have a problem of command and control structure where security and military institutions have multiple loyalties based on sect, tribe, region and ideology, he said.” 

Ashour says an exception is Tunisia but even there police officials seeking to block reforms have been able to use strikes for example to resist change.  Still he says Tunisia has made progress. 

“It is the only Arab Spring country who has taken serious steps using multiple international experts on technical aspects of that needed reform,” he said. 
And Dempsey says if there is a lesson to be learned it’s that reforms cannot be carried out in isolation.

“One of these lessons is that you can’t reform the police in isolation of a broader process that involves the judiciary, the legal system and prisons. You can’t simply reform just one piece,” said Dempsey.

You May Like

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

Researcher: Obesity Poses Complex Problem

Professor at Symposium on Obesity, Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome says problem involves more than calorie intake, warns of worldwide health impact More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thoughti
X
George Putic
May 26, 2015 9:26 PM
Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video US-led Coalition Gives Some Weapons to Iraqi Troops

In a video released Tuesday from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Iraqi forces and U.S.-led coalition troops survey a cache of weapons supplied to help Iraq liberate Mosul from Islamic State group. According to a statement provided with the video, the ministry and the U.S.-led coaltion troops have started ''supplying the 16th army division with medium and light weapons in preparation to liberate Mosul and nearby areas from Da'esh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State group).''
Video

Video Amnesty International: 'Overwhelming Evidence' of War Crimes in Ukraine

Human rights group Amnesty International says there is overwhelming evidence of ongoing war crimes in Ukraine, despite a tentative cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels. Researchers interviewed more than 30 prisoners from both sides of the conflict and all but one said they were tortured. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Washington Parade Honors Those Killed Serving in US Military

Every year, on the last Monday in the month of May, millions of Americans honor the memories of those killed while serving in the armed forces. Memorial Day is a tradition that dates back to the 19th Century. While many people celebrate the federal holiday with a barbecue and a day off from work, for those who’ve served in the military, it’s a special day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Arash Arabasadi reports for VOA from Washington.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.

VOA Blogs