Culturally, our society is not a strict one; Egyptians tend to value compromise over discipline. This trait is also inherent in our police apparatus, which is not isolated from societal norms. In fact, the lack of firmness affects the police more than it does any other government entity. Strictness is an essential component for the police and its absence affects its operational efficiency, which is the case.
Egypt desperately needs to restore a healthy relationship between its police apparatus and its citizens. This will not happen unless the state works on reforming the security services, along with extensively upgrading its capabilities and equipment. Although such a bold move will privilege the police apparatus substantially, the Egyptian state declines to accept it, believing that the police’s superior status immunizes it against all forms of reform.
Furthermore, Egypt is a nation that revolves around “influential connections” and members of the police apparatus are obviously the most influential state employees. Thus, many Egyptians tend to build relationships with police personnel with the aim of benefiting from their authority — a practice that can lead to deep and widespread abuse of power. In such a corrupt environment, police officers who truly want to enforce the law suffer the most.
Apparently, excelling in any given field of education is completely different from real life practices. Much of the behavior and many of the practices of members of the Egyptian police directly contradict what they must have been taught at their academy. This disparity can be easily overcome by applying mandatory reforms. Numerous comprehensive studies exist explaining how to reform our police apparatus to improve its operation, but the Egyptian state is convinced this would be a self-defeating move.
The state does not want to act as this could lead to police power exceeding that of other government entities, so the rift between officers and civilians will be maintained for years to come.
I believe that, while our police officers are quite intelligent, the state has placed them in an inappropriate frame of mind. Members who are accused by citizens of abusing their power may also be seen as victims of the state, which prompts them to apply harsh policies — a course of action that can eventually have a negative impact on their careers and lives. When citizens are extremely frustrated, they will obviously express their rage at the government and, in the eyes of Egyptians, the police apparatus has come to represent the government. This is what happened when people attacked and burned police stations during the Jan. 25, 2011, revolution.
The absence of justice in Egypt is due to the ambiguity of many of our laws, combined with the weakness of law enforcement, which negatively affects our justice mechanism. The result is that we live in a “gray area” that prompts many citizens to break the law in the knowledge that they can easily get away with their crimes, anticipating that our police apparatus may be reluctant to enforce the law. This should prompt us to urgently revisit the rules of engagement between Egyptian citizens and the police.
The Egyptian police apparatus could maintain its supremacy while also applying gradual reforms that would empower it to function as a fair and efficient entity, which is what Egypt desperately needs. The reality is that the Egyptian state doesn’t want to either reform the police force or expand its authority as this could lead to police power exceeding that of other state entities. Therefore, I anticipate that the controversial engagement between the two parties and the deficiency of our justice system will maintain the rift between police and civilians for years to come.
- Mohammed Nosseir, a liberal politician from Egypt, is a strong advocate of political participation and economic freedom. Twitter: @MohammedNosseir