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Democracy? Not So Fast!

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Police brutality in Egypt is "routine and pervasive" and the use of torture so widespread that the Egyptian government has stopped denying it exists, according to leaked cables released by WikiLeaks.

Wikileaks presents a batch of US embassy cables, a depressing picture of a police force and security service in Egypt wholly out of control. The cables suggest torture is routinely used against ordinary criminals, Islamist detainees, opposition activists and bloggers.

The Guardian writes: "The police use brutal methods mostly against common criminals to extract confessions, but also against demonstrators, certain political prisoners and unfortunate bystanders. One human rights lawyer told us there is evidence of torture in Egypt dating back to the time of the pharaohs. NGO contacts estimate there are literally hundreds of torture incidents every day in Cairo police stations alone," one cable said.

Under Hosni Mubarak's presidency there had been "no serious effort to transform the police from an instrument of regime power into a public service institution", it said. The police's ubiquitous use of force had pervaded Egyptian culture to such an extent that one popular TV soap opera recently featured a police detective hero who beat up suspects to collect evidence.

Fortunately, the pro-democracy forces won't have to deal with Hosni Mubarak, nor will it find Mubarak's consigliere, Omar Suleiman, hanging around waiting for work.

Suleiman -- Mubarak's pointman for the U.S. rendition program -- left with this encouraging parting shot: "The culture of democracy is still far away." He added that the continued demonstrations in Cairo and across the nation were "disrespectful" of Mubarak and warned of "the dark bats of the night emerging to terrorize the people."

It would seem that Mr. Suleiman, and his boss, were just a tad out of touch with the mood of the ebullient warriors in Tahrir Square,

Putting an even finer point on it, Robert Baer, a former CIA official, summed up his view of prisoner interrogation in the Middle East.   He said, "If you want a serious interrogation, you send a prisoner to Jordan. If you want them to be tortured, you send them to Syria. If you want someone to disappear--never to see them again--you send them to Egypt."

But it's critical that the nation-builders of Tahrir Square keep in mind that the only real changes made thus far have been to the cast of characters at the top: The president, the vice-president, the prime minister, the cabinet.

But the institutions are still where they were on January 24th. The procedures haven't changed. The infrastructure hasn't changed. No laws have been changed, including the so-called Emergency Law. The police haven't changed. Their qualifications haven't changed. How they view their mission hasn't changed.

All these and many more issues are going to have to be addressed   as the nation-building task goes forward. Police brutality -- whether military or civilian -- won't stop by itself.

So Step One is getting someone in authority to simply say "stop" and then monitor the situation to see if instructions are being observed.

Step Two would be a team of law enforcement professionals to take a rigorous look at the criminal justice system, starting with   arrest and detention.

Step Three has to be the development of long-term strategic plan whose goals is to professionalize the performance of Egypt's law enforcement apparatus. And provide incentives for interrogators not to morph into murderers.

And Step Four is going to be designing and implementing a system of oversight and accountability.

In the euphoria of post-revolutionary Egypt, it would be tempting to forget police brutality. But that would be like leaving a large chunk of Mubarak behind.

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http://billfisher.blogspot.com

William Fisher has managed economic development programs in the Middle East and elsewhere for the US State Department and the US Agency for International Development. He served in the international affairs area in the Kennedy Administration and now (more...)
 

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