May 4, 2011

No.. the security situation isn't good

The security issue is far more complex than many would like to think. It's not that the police are refusing to go back to the streets; it is that we don't have a police force to start with. What we have is an angry, under staffed, corrupt, incompetent and underpaid government organization, similar in many ways to il shahr il 3akary or bank il tasleef il zera3ee. Moreover, that shitty organization was broken by the revolution, while the media post January 25th has continued to slaughter them.

First of all, there is an overall disgruntle by the members of the police with their bosses. There are inherit problems, just like any other organization in Egypt, with regards to bad pay (shitty to be specific), favoritism, corruption, inhuman working conditions, etc.

Second, many of the "good" guys feel that they have been betrayed by their ministry during the revolution when they were left hanging on January 28th, without any direction, while they had to bare the backlash in the streets. They are not happy at all.

Third, many of the "bad" guys have disappeared from fear of retaliation by the residents in their neighborhoods or their implication in various crimes ranging from corruption to torture and murder. And they should be scared, the amount of corruption in the force is beyond imagination: from extortion to drug dealing, abortion clinics and microbuses. Not to mention the infringements on every possible human right. Most of these guys won't go back to work.

Fourth, the regime has continuously removed any competent or honest calibers in the force. The high ranking officers that were left are in many cases either incompetent, corrupt or both. Not much material to start with.

Fifth, the attack from the media continues to enrage the "good" guys and scare the "bad" ones, making both reluctant to go back to the streets. The refusal to recognize the victims in the police force makes the honest ones feel even more let down.

Last but not least, the force was already under staffed, under equipped and under trained. The attacks on the police stations have crippled them even more. Moreover, the protests by the police have succeeded in bringing down working hours from 12 to 8 which cuts down the force by one third. Finally, even the good guys lack the basic training needed to understand boundaries for the use of force with criminals. They often just decide not to intervene in fear of violating a human right or getting more heat from the media.

On the other hand, let's face some facts; the majority of our population has no respect for the rule of law. Over the years, the absence of a fair and transparent judiciary system and law enforcement agencies has resulted in many taking the law into their own hands and a general disregard for the government as a protector of rights. The only barrier for complete anarchy was fear from the brutality of the police and "that" was broken on January 28th. While we might hear in our neighborhoods of the occasional car theft or purse lifting, I can assure you that the rule of the jungle is what governs the more popular neighborhoods as well as remote areas, where police are unable to resume their presence and enforce the law.

The level of crime in Shobra El Kheima, El Barageel, 3zebet El Nakhl, etc. is frightening; gang wars between families, rape, robbery in plain daylight, even armed raids on police stations. Not to mention the less dangerous crimes of illegal construction, drug dealing, traffic violations, etc. which are becoming business as usual. Doctors in public hospitals are being bullied by the patients and their families and some cases of armed robbery inside public hospitals have been recorded. I have a friend whose farm land has been taken over by criminals, another whose factory was taken over by thugs, a third who lost several trucks to hijacks, etc. and neither the police nor the army are getting involved.

The situation might have eased a little in the past few weeks but in return crime is slowly getting more organized and is moving away from random acts to pre-planned activities. Just this week, two police stations (at least) have been attacked to release detainees, an armed robbery was stopped by civilians on Corniche and a group of 30 thugs took over a garage run by a family in Sabteya after a knife fight; this is just to name a few.

Alternatively, and this is not in defense of the army or military trials, but the fact – as I've gotten from several people – is that the army's perceived strictness and the swift and exaggerated military trials are the only deterrent today from full fledge chaos. The police have lost any ability to enforce law and order. I've personally witnessed at least 4 fights in the past couple of weeks between microbus drivers and traffic police, in two of those cases the microbus drivers ganged up on the cop and beat him for trying to stop one of them from driving in the wrong direction.

So, NO, the situation is not fun. On one hand we have an incapable, scared, broken, understaffed and corrupt police force and on the other we have a growing crime rate and a shrinking respect for / fear of the law. The steps taken by the Ministry of Interior are not making it any easier. I will admit that they have very little material to start working with in terms of man power and equipment, but they are also doing a shitty job in working with the public. They have not once come out to reconcile with us, have not tried to address the key concerns or explain their plans are for the future. Moreover, they have shuffled their people around, the very same people that were rejected by the street and the same wrong practices are still ongoing. Basically, as far as we know, nothing has changed except that crime rates are on the rise.

I personally have no solution for this. It's not because I think it's an impossible problem to resolve, I am just not familiar enough with this sector to know how to handle it. All I know is that the situation isn't as simple as it seems. I say that because many find it very easy to criticize the performance of the police without realizing the size of the challenge. I suspect that some of the more critical opinions see little value in having the police back on the streets to start with. I am sure that there are several countries that have gone through this process and we have no need to re-invent the wheel. It simply becomes a matter of political will at this stage.

Our role is to get over the whining and the criticism, whether it is our condemnation for their performance in the past or our complaints from their current absence and inefficiency; we have to stop.  The media also has to draw the line on the bashing and start addressing solutions, creating awareness and discuss future plans. Civilians have to get involved in the process, just as much as we fight for our rights to freedom and justice; we have to call for our rights to security and the rule of law. We also have to stop perceiving the police as the enemy and start working towards reform and reconciliation. We have to stop judging every effort by a policeman as an infringement of freedom and of human rights. The Ministry has to also put its act together and start talking to the public. It has to recognize its problems and its challenges to reform.

I would like to close with an optimistic note. Crime rates are getting higher. Yes!! And with a democratic process and the application of human rights, crime rates always rise. However, compared to similar countries, Egypt still enjoys one of the lowest crime rates. Can you imagine what would have happened in Brazil, Mexico, Argentina or South Africa if the police disappeared for 6 weeks? I consider us to be very lucky in comparison. And as I said above, there are examples worldwide that we can learn from on how to reform our police and bring the rule of law back to the streets. We just have to want to do that and do it fast.

No comments:

Post a Comment