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Democracy? Not So Fast!

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Hey, I'm about the last guy in the world to rain on Egypt's parade. I love the place -- I used to live there. Its people are kind, smart, funny, hospitable, caring. The country has enormous potential. What that non-violent army of mostly young people achieved in Tahrir Square and elsewhere was straight out of the movies. Things like this aren't supposed to happen in real life.

But happen it did. Which means that after a couple of days of whatever wild brand of euphoria they choose, the brave folks who dumped Hosni Mubarak and his entire entourage have a nation to build. And huge problems to solve.

Even seen from 30,000 feet, those problems look daunting enough. Forty per cent of Egyptians live below the poverty line. University graduates are driving taxis and many haven't ever had a job -- or even a job interview --using the skillsets they acquired at University.

Many smart young people who have the airfare have fled to Europe and the US.

Government-sponsored children's education is a travesty. Schools without books. Underpaid, under-qualified teachers. Public health care underfunded and under-staffed for years. Unemployment   officially at nine per cent and change; unofficially, closer to 50 per cent.

The concentration of wealth is mind-boggling: The wealthiest five per cent of Egyptians control an overwhelming part of the nation's wealth. Forty per cent of the rest of the country lives below the poverty line. The divide between the super-rich and the super-poor is a gaping chasm. Corruption -- both petty corruption and big ticket corruption -- is ubiquitous. It prices ordinary people out of normal living and makes Egyptian businesses embarrassingly uncompetitive with the rest of the world.

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Issue by issue, Egypt's new government, when it appears, is going to have to tackle all these problems in some kind of priority order. But even before that happens, there is a problem that needs to be -- and can be -- tackled beginning right now. That is not to say it's an easy problem to solve, because solving it is going to require a change in behavior, a change in culture -- and cultural changes are the most difficult to effect and take the longest amount of time to bear fruit.

The problem is police brutality. And the State-sanctioned impunity that accompanies it. It shows its ugly face at many levels of "law enforcement." It is counter-productive. It puts Egypt's most sadistic, misanthropic, and mentally ill people in positions of power where they can exercise their life-threatening skills with total impunity.

During the 17-day occupation of Tahrir Square, some 300 protesters lost their lives.   A few were hit with rocks or petrol bombs. But most of those who died were picked up by the police and thrown in jail. There, they were beaten and tortured. Many of them never made it out.

Next time we hear of the great respect the protesters have for the Egyptian military, it would be useful to remember that the abusers and torturers and murderers who caused these deaths in detention were Military Police -- the cops of the Army. Exactly the same group that used to be Mubarak's Army. Chances are we'll never know for sure who gave these guys their marching orders.

Now, every military organization has military police and a criminal investigation division, however named. But there is no need for these units to become medieval murder machines. I know; I used to be a military cop.

What I learned is that these torture machines don't happen by spontaneous combustion. Sometimes, it starts with one misanthropic sadist, who manages to get others to follow his lead. Sometimes, it's someone at or near the top who plans the torture machine, manages it and encourages the torturers. Whichever it is, it doesn't happen by accident.

The important thing to remember is that today, days after the people's amazing revolution, the military police are still in place, presumably doing what they've been trained to do.

If you're not squeamish, you can read the chilling account of one man's torture by the Army's Military Police in Britain's Guardian newspaper. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/feb/09/egypt-army-detentions-torture-accused?)

Police brutality intrudes at many levels. The record of the Secret Security Police is better-known and arguably even more blood-curdling than that of the Military Police. The 30-year-old Emergency Laws provides cover for the most bestial enemies of the State as they continue to arrest, abuse and torture people.

Reigning in the dreaded police working for the incredibly cruel and unbelievably corrupt Ministry of Interior is another dangerous aspect of the Military's mission. For the moment, we have to take it on faith that the Military has reached or will soon reach some agreement with the police that will result in the tamping down of their more barbarian instincts.

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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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