There is something gloomy now about the nights of Cairo, which you notice it while driving at night. It’s as if the City has suddenly become less bright at night, and it doesn’t shine the way it used to. I used to think I am imagining it, and then tonight I’ve finally figured it out: Not only does it seem as if the light bulbs that they are using now to light the 6th October bridge at night are dimmer, there are dozens of light poles that are simply off, and have been for a while now, with no one fixing them. Their absence makes the night full of dread, as if with the rising crime and the continued lack of safety of our streets are not reasons enough. Those light poles and their conditions are perfect metaphor to what’s happening in the country right now: The situation is, slowly but surely, deteriorating, and nobody is doing anything to fix that. The Arab spring has turned into nuclear bloody winter, and the lights are slowly fading.
If we ignore the current political situation for a second, we might be able to focus on what’s really happening in the country, and maybe, just maybe, figure out the ways to which we can ensure that the current dark phase is a temporary one, and provide solutions to the real concerns of the people that are both well-thought out and researched. We don’t do that, and instead we offer platitudes and theoretical solutions that don’t adhere to practical reality or our goals. We started a revolution to prevent corruption, and now the government officials, at least on the municipalities’ level, are being more corrupt than ever and being blatant about it, and nobody is doing anything or offering any real solution to actually stop that from happening. The same is happening in regards to our cattle, and to our economy, and nobody has a clue on how to fix this, or has a real full understanding of the problem and why it exists in the first place. Without that, we are doomed to stay stuck with our problems and to watching them continue to exasperate and grow to something of ghoulish proportions, without the ability to fix the problem on the long term. And nowhere, and I mean nowhere, is that more evident in our problems with security and law enforcement, or the fact that it still doesn’t seem to exist on our streets in any meaningful capacity. There are reasons for that that we must understand, or we are stuck in this limbo of a broken country, with no hope of ever getting out.
There is no doubt that our Police force leaves much to be desired, or that it’s filled with people who may not have criminal minds or intentions, but definitely have criminal attitudes. However, this is not an article that aims to attack them and continue to call them all the names and adjectives that we have so grown to use regarding them, neither does it aims to apologize for their actions, or excuse them. This article aims to understand the root of the problem of police reform, and why they continue to act like criminals are worst, or criminally negligent at best. It’s easy to take the position of many revolutionaries and write off the force as 99% criminals and butchers, but it doesn’t help solve anything, nor will any of the plans that aim to “clean the police” that keep popping up. The Problem, in a nutshell, and away from any criminal or corrupt activity they engage in, is simply this: Our Police is comprised of severely limited (many of which are violent) human beings that are facing an extremely hostile environment without proper training or resources, at a shit salary and shitty hours, to protect a public that daily demands their presence on the street, but refuses to obey the law or respect their authority. But if we take a bird eye view, we will find that things are slightly more complex than that. Here is some food for thought to consider in this debate:
- Like many government institutions (the army, the judiciary, the media), our police suffers from a severe case of nepotism, with families that all work in that sector. The Son gets into the MOI due to some strings done by his father who is also in the MOI, and pre revolution it was the parents and their friends protecting the sons if they got into trouble. After the revolution, it is the sons, the law-ranking street officers who are refusing any punishment against their parents (and parents’ friends) generation. For the lack of a better word, our police force is a clan.
- Throughout their 4 year study in the Police academy, they are not trained in any way, shape or form to apply the law or deal with the public, or even to do proper police work. They don’t get trained on crime scene investigation, proper interrogation techniques, or respecting the same law & process they are supposed to protect. They have something called “The scene of the crime” theater, where they are supposed to learn how investigate a crime scene. That thing is never opened or used unless we have foreign visitors. Otherwise, it is closed and never used.
- As much as there is talk about how much funding the MOI receives in the Budget, the reality is that they are severely under-funded and under-resourced. Take Maadi for example, where they have one police officer and three soldiers to protect all of the Maadi banks, and with an old blue pick-up truck (elbox) to chase out potential robbers who usually are driving stolen new 4×4 cars, or guys on motorcycles (They also have one police officer in charge of protecting all the gas stations in Maadi as well). Or in Heliopolis, where during my run for parliament my friend Ramy’s bag was stolen from his car, at 10 pm at night, on the very busy street of Marghany, on a Friday night, and the car was parked in front of the presidential palace. Our trip to the Police station was depressing, because they were helpless, and still reeling from the fact that the police checkpoint in Roxy was just robbed two days ago of its computers. We awaited the patrol sergeants in the area to arrive, which they did 20 minutes later in a taxi, because they don’t have cars or motorbikes, and are supposed to “secure” a three kilometers radius area at night on foot, which is safe to say is not the most efficient way to do this. They complained to us incessantly on how helpless they are, and how they have orders of “selective law enforcement”: i.e. if they found someone smoking up in the street for example, and they have a Heliopolis address (thus rich and upper-middle class) they were clearly instructed to let them go, all the while are encouraged to apply the law fully if the person had a “Ain Shams” address for example, which is the neighboring lower-middle class neighborhood. Why? Because their commanding officers don’t want headaches (upper-middle class people have connections & media access that could cause them trouble as opposed to their middle and lower-middle counterparts) or the people from the neighborhood to dislike them further, thus sending to their lower-ranks the same message they had before the revolution: the law is meaningless when it comes to the affluent, thus ensuring the perpetuation of the lack of respect to any law, because If the country’s most educated won’t respect the law, even on the level of putting seatbelts on, or talking on the phone while driving, or hell, having your license on you while driving, then who will?
- The question then arises: well, if the resources are the same, and the attitude was the same, how was Cairo so secure before the revolution? Well, the answer was simple: FEAR. They harnessed and perpetuated the fear from the Police, and the fear from being taken into Police custody, who will abuse, mistreat, torture and sometimes even kill you, to ensure that the citizens complied with “the law” and that the streets were “secure”, which they did through the mistreatment of the citizens or the distribution of what is now known as “Police torture videos”, which were aimed at lower classes to put the fear of God into them. This method lead them on the very dangerous path of viewing themselves as also above the law and able to literally get away with murder, especially with the culture of zero-accountability that marked the Habib El-Adly reign. They also had a very good idea of who the “repeat offenders” in the area were, so if a crime happened, they would simply round them up and torture them until someone confessed, fully understanding that if he was truly guilty, then justice was done, and if not, the population would feel safe again since “the criminals were caught”, and that the true perpetrator would be unlikely to repeat the crime in that same area because they know someone else took the fall for them, and they wouldn’t want to attract that kind of attention in their direction again. This is no longer the case, with the torching of Police stations, and break-outs in the country’s jails, which makes them completely unable to gauge how many “repeat-offenders” exist in the area they operate in anymore, and the rise of human-rights organizations and advocates, who became focused on defending the “suspects” and “repeat-offenders” rights from Police abuse, and supplying them with the lawyers that would defend them, and god knows our Police was never even trained on the right legal procedures to arrest or interrogate anyone, thus ensuring their release and the placement of the Police officer under internal investigation. So, in return, the police realize that it’s far easier to not bother with the rounding up of those suspects in the first place, especially with how well-armed the lower-class neighborhoods’ are at the moment, and the general lack of sympathy when a police officer dies on duty or get injured if they do try to stop a crime, and decided to let it all go to hell.
- This, of course, doesn’t go well with the few good apples that exist in our Police Force, and they do exist, who would like to ensure that the respect of the police and the security of the streets return once again, because, like the rest of us, they reside in them. So a few in Heliopolis suggested that the MOI supply them with small wireless lipstick cameras that they can wear as part of their uniforms, recording their interactions with the general public, and acting as evidence and an arbiter in deciding if they broke the law or rules of conduct with the citizens and vice versa, and have it all logged in hard-drives in their patrol cars. That idea was of course rejected by the older generation in management, no reason given. Another police officer came up with a plan to actually secure an entire neighborhood with the low cost of 15,000 pounds (2.5 thousand dollars), and that idea was also rejected by the older generation, no reasons were given. One can guess the reasons to be anything from 1) their reluctance to change their ways to 2) lack of resources, to 3)fear of “trouble” if those cameras recorded evidence that one of the more connected citizens broke the law, or one of their officers in the lower-class neighborhoods did the same thing, thus stopping their ability to interfere or “resolve the situation”. Thus again sending them the same message from their offices of Power: Don’t bother; which is easy for them to do since they are not the ones on the front-lines of anything and don’t want any accountability for anything.
- This general culture of lack of accountability or desire for improvement by the older ranks naturally leaves the lower-ranks officers quite resentful of them and of their orders to “bring back security” to the streets, and also making them believe that they are expendable, since they are asked to go and stop criminals that have better guns and better cars equipment than they do, and without the leaders that don’t care for them or the public that neither fears or respect them, so they simply don’t obey any order given to them that would place their lives at risk. Take for example of the events of Mansour Mohamed, where the MOI insisted that they didn’t give any of the officers any live ammo or birdshot ammo, but rather blanks, and contrast that with the thousands of injured with birdshots all over their bodies. We naturally assume that the MOI is lying, but that’s actually not the case. The MOI really did not give the officers any live ammo of any kind; the low-ranking officers, Lieutenants and captains, are the ones buying it themselves, with half of their salaries, mostly from their officer friends in the army, and if they don’t have any, they go to Gun-shops and buy it there. Why? Because they believe, totally and utterly, that the revolutionaries want them dead, and that if any of them gets caught by the protesters, they might not make it our alive by firing blanks at them, so they take the blanks from the Ministry, toss them, use the live ammo and go out guns-blazing and shooting any of them that’s close enough to be in range, to get them to either flee or be “neutralized”, knowing full well that they will get away with it because legally there is no evidence, and that the rule of zero-accountability still exists in the MOI, and emboldened by the fact that any Minister that takes over can simply be removed by 1) mounting public anger to anything bad that any of them anywhere in the country can do or 2) Cabinet changes that keep taking place so often that I bet that half of the readers of this post wouldn’t be able to say who the current MOI Minister is without looking it up. After 15 years of having the same minister, the MOI has changed ministers 3 times in the span of a year, and is expected to have a 4th one the moment the MB forms the new government, so why bother with any of their directives orders or plans, if they can just be replaced at any given moment?
And mind you, this is nothing. Just the tip of the ice-berg of the cluster-fuck that is our current security situation, and it doesn’t even take into account all the Police officers who have, over the years, become so corrupt that they are the ones running crime (drug rings, prostitution rings, theft-rings) in their neighborhoods, nor does it take into account our fantastically criminal state security apparatus and all the shit that they did and still do throughout their reign, and that nobody, again, is doing anything real or substantive about it. So, for a lack of a better word, we are currently in a cluster-fuck, and one that is unlikely to change or improve in the coming couple of years because as any criminal-justice major will tell you that worsening economic situation and the lack of strong and present law-enforcement will lead to the rise of petty-crime. You add to that the instances of newly forming organized crime structure that are starting to show themselves, and the ever worsening situation of street-children and street-families, who are 1) increasing and 2) many of which are venturing into semi-organized crime as well, and you start seeing the increasingly darker picture of our very near future. The question then becomes: what should we do?
Well, many of the proposals and solutions presented, from “firing everyone who broke the law”, to “we can train lawyers to become police officers in a year” are naïve and impractical. If we fired every police-officer who broke the law, we will fire them all, and if we train lawyers to become police officers in a year there is no guarantee that 1) the lawyers who will join won’t be equally corrupt to the ones in office now, or 2) that they will be any more effective in enforcing the law, given the worsening crime situation and their lack of the tools and street knowledge that the police force cultivates over the years that allows them to do their jobs and 3) the problems highlighted above will continue to exist, because, well, who will train and equip them except the current crop of MOI honchos who are equally ill-trained and equipped? What can be done?
Well, I am no expert, nor am I nearly qualified to provide the solution, but I do understand some things, so I will present them here also as my suggestions to slightly improve the situation:
- There is no such thing as fast police-reform. The Police in Belguim, an affluent first world rich country, took them 10 years to reform their police force from something that used to be considered a joke to something respectable. Their conditions were nowhere near as bas ours was, and it took them 10 years, so we shouldn’t expect anything faster.
- Crime will happen in Egypt, like it happens anywhere else in the world. Muggings, breaking and entry, even murder, are commonplace everywhere in the world, even in the safest areas of the most affluent civilized countries. It sucks, but it’s normal. What we had before was abnormal and resulted in consequence to everything that took place in the past year. The return to that will not solve any of our crime problems, but rather exasperate them more.
- Join the Police. The corrupt clan “Band of brothers” culture of the MOI needs to be broken and this could only happen if ethically-minded Egyptians applied to the Police academy and joined the force. We didn’t encourage young revolutionaries to do that last year, even though we should’ve, because that would’ve been the most logical way to produce a new crop of Police officers in the near future that wouldn’t be corrupt and who would take their job and the law seriously. Another suggestion should’ve been ensuring that the two years of law that the Police get as part of their education as police officers should actually be taken outside the academy and in the regular universities of Cairo and Ain Shams, thus breaking the fraternity feeling that the police recruits have and that makes them protect each other over applying the law, and making the newly graduated police officer a part of a greater society, instead of the bubble they get placed in for four years inside the Police academy.
- There is absolutely no other choice but for the culture of proper Police investigation to make a come-back to our Police force, which should be our demand and concern. Training the officers and recruits on police investigations should be our first priority, and getting them experts from abroad on this should be a national demand until we cultivate our own.
- Technology and IT will help: The use of cameras is not a bad idea at all, and ensures 1) the existence of evidence of the charges presented against the suspect, 2) the following of police procedures by the police, and 3) ensuring the equal treatment of all, citizens and police, according to the law. The creation of a strong national database is also a must that connects everyone’s ID number with the criminal record or lack there-of, and giving the officers hand-held computers that allows them access to such a network when they apprehend someone that they believe to be suspicious due to his “appearance” to verify the need to take them to the police station to investigate further. Currently, the only such computer is found inside the police station, and thus created the need-or the excuse- to take the suspected citizen back to the police station to “investigate”, which is where the majority of the abuse historically happens. Having those computers or hand-held devices will eliminate that problem or excuse immediately.
- Put on your seat-belts. For real. Respect the law even if you don’t respect the law-enforcer. Don’t complain about corruption when you are willing to use it to get yourself or your loved-ones out of trouble. Don’t complain about traffic officers when you continuously break all of the laws every time you drive. The Law shouldn’t be respected because of fear of punishment, but for the desire of the citizens to live in a civilized ordered society. You know that corny saying of “Be the change you want to see”? Well, in our case it’s not that corny. If you won’t respect the law and encourage others to do the same, don’t complain about the crime or the police, because, guess what? You are part of the problem. Big time.
- Offer your assistance to improve the situation, and it might get improved. I am working on getting the police sergeants in Heliopolis Chinese motorbikes, so that they can at least cover their 3km patrol areas on something other than foot, and thus making them slightly more efficient in crime prevention or criminal apprehension. Someone else I know is offering to 15 K necessary to implement the plan of that police officer, with the condition that the same officer present an equal plan for a poorer neighborhoods that he is also willing to fund. We are living in the same country, might as well start behaving like we are a community.
Those suggestions are not a silver bullet, nor will they solve the problems that we have immediately, but they are a start, and we must start somewhere, and do it together, if we want things to improve, instead of always wanting to throw the responsibility on someone else and complaining that they don’t do their jobs. The deterioration that is taking place in all the sectors might not be our fault, but it has to be our responsibility, if not for the love of our country, then for our own self-interest. The nights might be becoming gloomier by the minute, but if we don’t do something about it, well, the light might never come back.