Thursday, August 11, 2011

Egypt: The Education of the Generals

By William Fisher

While the leaders of Egypt’s revolution argue with the ruling generals about when to hold elections and when to rewrite the Constitution, many Egypt experts are saying that the problem central to the success of the revolution is being cosmetisized or irnored altogether: Overhaul of the government security apparatus.

“Comprehensive reform of the security state -- and specifically, the Ministry of Interior and its sub-organizations, the ‘bowels’ of Mubarak’s repressive state apparatus -- is crucial if Egyptians are to establish a democratic society based on the rule of law,” says one such expert, Samer S. Shehata, professor of Arab Politics at Georgetown University.

Shehata charges that during the Mubarak administration, “ensuring the regime’s survival, not protecting the citizenry or upholding the rule of law, was its primary function.”

Speaking at a conference organized by Jadaliyya magazine, Shehata said, “Absent was the understanding that the police and the security forces more generally, are not above the law or immune from accountability. In fact, Habib El-Adly, the despised former Minister of Interior, now on trial, changed the police’s motto several years ago. The motto had long been -- somewhat ironically -- “the police in the service of the people.” Adly replaced this with an Orwellian-sounding slogan, “the police and the people in the service of the nation” (the old motto has since been readopted).

He explained: “Abuse by security personnel took both small and large forms: in daily interactions with the police, on the street, at traffic stops, and police checkpoints, to more serious cases involving torture and human rights violations. The arbitrary exercise of authority was widespread. In the absence of any real accountability, security officials acted with near impunity. Suspected criminals were routinely mistreated, especially those accused of petty crimes. Heavy-handed techniques were the norm. Police stations were feared by many. Few rights or protections were afforded, especially to those without connections or money. And corruption was endemic.”

Bahey el-Din Hassan, the director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), recently declined the newly-created position of Deputy Interior Minister for Human Rights. He said he was not optimistic that the political context in which the post was created would allow it to have a real impact on the situation inside the Ministry of Interior. “On the contrary, it may only serve to cover up a still ugly reality that must be changed, a task which is beyond the capabilities of the deputy - and perhaps even of the Interior Mnister himself - to accomplish.”

He added, “The chronic human rights problem of the police and security establishment is too complex to be solved by the creation of a deputy human rights post in the Interior Ministry. Indeed, the problem is closely linked to the extent to which people realize the need for radical, far-reaching reform in the Interior Ministry and other state institutions and ministries. The experience of the last few months contains little to indicate this realization among the Interior Ministry, the Prime Minster, or the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.”

If Egypt’s “January 25 revolution” is to succeed, comprehensive security reform is required, he said, adding that making minor changes around the margins is unlikely to produce any positive change.

Unfortunately, he said, “there is little indication that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) or the current Minister of Interior is interested in undertaking such reforms.”

So far, he concluded, “The SCAF has only changed the name of the SSIS and made promises of further reform. More recently, the government announced the dismissal of several hundred high ranking officers, and the commencement of trials against officers suspected of murdering protesters. None of these steps address the structural aspects of the problem at hand.”

He told The Public Record, “Renaming the agency and promising some reforms is not enough. It needs to be disbanded.”

His recommendations:

“The Ministry of Interior must be placed under civilian control, as has already been suggested by a number of activists and civil society organizations. This could entail replacing the current minister (a basic demand of many of the July 8 protesters) with a civilian, preferably someone with a legal and human rights background.”

“Reform must also entail drastically curtailing, if not eliminating, the role of the security services in many aspects of public, private, and political life. The Ministry of Interior’s (and particularly, the SSIS) surveillance and authority was pervasive and extended to universities (overseeing academic appointments, research, and student groups and activities), media whether private or state-owned, business, labor (through the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation), syndicates, and civil society groups, not to mention political parties, activists, Islamists, and elections.”

“In addition to the measures outlined above, clearly established and effective institutional channels for citizen complaint must be put in place, to ensure accountability. Achieving greater transparency and oversight, particularly when it comes to budgetary matters, must be the guiding principles of any security sector reform initiative in Egypt.”

Finally, Prof. Shehata observed: “The primary benefit of democratic governance is not the right to place a ballot in a ballot box every few years. It is to live in a society governed by the rule of law, and characterized by citizenship, accountability, and the protections of basic freedoms (both, of course, are related). The ballot box is one particularly important mechanism for establishing and preserving such a society. This reminder could not be more relevant to ongoing efforts to advance democratic change in Egypt.”

Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, agrees. He said, “The government also needs to reform the interior ministry to make sure it does not repeat past abuses by security services under its jurisdiction, and to initiate investigations of torture and other abuses by leading security officers. The need to move forward with investigations into the actions of officers from the now-dissolved State Security Investigations (SSI) division of the ministry is especially urgent -- the division was notorious for using systematic torture and enforced disappearance to obtain information.”

To prevent torture, government officials should establish civilian oversight of the police force, permit independent monitoring by civil society groups of detention sites, and create an internal unit to investigate torture complaints transparently.

“The justice ministry also should reform the process used by the public prosecutor to investigate police abuse, Human Rights Watch said.The vast majority of torture complaints never reach court because of police intimidation of victims and witnesses who file complaints, an inadequate legal framework, and delays in referring victims for medical examination. The government also should end the practice of relying on police from the same unit as the alleged torturer to gather evidence and summon witnesses. Instead, the prosecutor's office should control all aspects of these investigations, and bar police involvement in gathering evidence and summoning witnesses.”

It has been seven months since strongman Hosni Mubarak resigned the presidency. While the interim military rulers have made some progress in some areas, it has to be said that their performance has been less than distinguished – a lot less. It appears that those invidials and groups responsible for Mubarak’s downfall have had to pull the military rulers by the hair, literally every step, to achieve even the most basic reforms.

Meanwhile, people are still being arrested and detained without charges, legal representatation or trial. Civilians are being tried in military courts. Prof. Shehata reminded The Public Record that in March hundreds of people entered State Security offices in Cairo and Alexandria and found thousand s of files about all of their activities ... spying, "intelligence," surveillance and other bad things. There were reports of finding torture rooms. Men who were arrested duiring that period were abused, not by civilian law enforcement but by military police, who also subjected wwomen detainees to “virginity tests.”

And the so-called Emergency Laws are still in effect after 30 years. These laws, passed just after the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1981, give the government sweeping police powers to arrest, detain, prosecute and imprison with virtually no due process.

(It comes as good news that Ali El-Selmy, Deputy Prime Minister, has told Al Ahram newspaper that the cabinet is planning to repeal the emergency law soon; in a meeting held on July 25 the Cabinet allegedly discussed laws and mechanisms to replace the law. The Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) has promised to eradicate the emergency law, but it may be worth noting that such undertakings have been proposed a number of times by the ruling regime.)

Now, all this should come as no surprise to those who follow revolutions and their aftermath. Most don’t work. The euphoria of victory is slowly and painfully transformed into frustration and anger with the glacial pace of change and then disputes among revolutionary factions that divide and weaken the opposition.

But think about it: The generals who rule Egypt now are all, for one reason or another, associates of the fallen dictator. In many cases, the older generation of ruling officers went to school and up through the ranks with Mubarak, looked up to him as the picture of the ideal leader, and accepted from him the doors he opened to become not only powerful, but wealthy. And while the younger officers may have shared less, they shared nevertheless, and learned lessons from their superiors.

But what they never learned was about governing. They learned about commanding. And If all you know is commanding, obviously you will get a command economy and a vision of government based, not on the chaos of democracy, but on the button-down, salute-and-accept traditions of military establishments everywhere -- and the disciplines that go with those traditions.

That makes the education of the generals the toughest short-term problem Egypt faces.

The Oslo Massacre

By William Fisher

If you’re one of those busy people who gets his/her news on the fly, as it were, in little dribs and drabs, you’d have been pretty certain that the guy who killed all those people in Oslo a couple of weeks ago was an Islamic Terrorist.

After all, aren’t they the ones who commit these unspeakable acts? And isn’t that what was being reported on TV and in the main newspapers?

Indeed it was. The first headline in New York Times, for example, said, “jihadis claim responsibility.” The BBC picked up The Times’ story line, as did the US cable networks and early wire service reports. These stories left the reader with the unmistakable impression that al Qaeda or one of its franchisees was responsible for the Oslo carnage.

One of the cooler heads in the media was Glenn Greenwald of Salon, who reported all of the above.

Greenwald also noted that Jennifer Rubin, writing in the Washington Post, said: “We don’t know if al Qaeda was directly responsible for today’s events, but in all likelihood the attack was launched by part of the jihadist hydra. Prominent jihadists have already claimed online that the attack is payback for Norway’s involvement in the war in Afghanistan. Moreover, there is a specific jihadist connection here: ‘Just nine days ago, Norwegian authorities filed charges against Mullah Krekar, an infamous al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist who, with help from Osama bin Laden, founded Ansar al Islam – a branch of al Qaeda in northern Iraq – in late 2001’.”

What short memories we have! The tragedy of 9/11 has so consumed our consciousness that we have forgotten that Timothy McVeigh, that all-American malcontent, blew up the Alfred Murrah Federal Office Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people including 19 children 1995.

Also forgotten by most of us is the incontrovertible truth that most terrorist attacks in the US are committed, not by Islamists wearing suicide vests, but by clean-cut-looking Americans like Timothy McVeigh.

In fact, a 2010 study by The Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) reported that:

· There were 80 total plots by U.S.-originated non-Muslim perpetrators against the United States since 9/11. In comparison, there have been 45 total plots by U.S. and foreign-originated Muslim perpetrators since 9/11.

· There have been least five incidents of non-Muslim violent extremists possessing or attempting to possess Biological, Chemical or Radiological weapons. One of those incidents occurred since Obama’s election. No such cases involving Muslim violent extremists have been reported since 9/11.

· Since November 2008 there have been 45 plots by domestic non-Muslim violent extremists. By comparison, there have been 22 plots by Muslim, U.S. and foreign-originated extremists.

· Muslim communities helped U.S. security officials to prevent more than four out of every 10 Al-Qaeda plots threatening the United States since 9/11. Muslim communities helped law enforcement prevent three-quarters of all Al-Qaeda related plots threatening the U.S. since December 2009.

Likewise, in Europe, of 294 terrorist attacks attempted or executed on European soil in 2009, only one out of 294 was perpetrated by "Islamists."

So not only was the Oslo bomber not a Muslim, he was a virtual caricature of what a 100% native Nordic male is supposed to look like, right down to his blond hair and blue eyes.

Which may help explain why “the West” – The Americas and Europe –failed to show the usual signs of the furious activity -- beefing up airport and other security, stepping up the gathering and analysis of intelligence about Muslim hate groups and lone wolf jihadis, and imposing new regulations to further curtail privacy and other Constitutional rights.

Yet Anders Behring Breivik was as much linked to a network as any of the Islamist jihadis. He is a right-wing Christian nationalist, and he fed off the plethora of websites dedicated to promoting Islamophobia, the end of immigration, and the supremacy of Christians with white skins.

As Glenn Greenwald reported, his “mentors” included some of America’s best-known Islamophobes and self-styled terrorism “experts” – Daniel Pipes, Robert Spencer, and Pam Geller, are all mentioned by name in Breivik’s “manifesto.”

"It’s clear from his manifesto that he was slowly withdrawing from wider civil society," said Matthew Goodwin, an expert on right-wing extremism at Britain’s University of Nottingham. "Online, he was certainly active in terms of far-right blogs such as Brussels Journal and Gates of Vienna. He had an extensive Facebook network and had built up substantial online links."

There will be those who are genuinely disappointed that Breivik’s name is not Mohammed ben-Brievik because that would confirm the legitimacy of their twisted ideology. And it would also help increase their book sales, web site traffic and speaking fees. Islamophobia is, after all, a thriving cottage industry.

Norway, it seems to me, is taking a more rational approach. The government has formed a Commission to gather the grim facts of the July 22 massacre. There may be some criticism of the police response, which appeared to be slow. There may also be some reorganization of internal security procedures to help prevent another July 22.

But when Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg was asked how Norway plans to counter extremists from any part of the political spectrum, he replied: “With more democracy.” He promised that Norway would remain “an open society.”

Is there something we can learn from Norway?