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

Disappointing Report on China's Economy Shakes Markets

In London and New York shares lost 3 percent, while Paris and Germany dropped around 2.4 percent More

DRC Tries Mega-Farms to Feed Population

Park at Boukanga Lonzo currently has 5,000 hectares under cultivation, crops stretching as far as eye can see, and is start of ambitious large-scale agriculture plan More

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Areas are spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, source of livelihood for fishermen and herders who have called the marshes home for generations More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs