“The governments that rose to power in Egypt and Tunisia in the wake of the Arab Spring are increasingly relying on the oppressive security apparatuses crafted by their predecessors,” notes a regional analyst.
“Whole-scale reform of the security services in both countries, where police were viewed as predatory foot soldiers for the regime, was a central catalyst for the uprisings two years ago,” writes the Global Post’s Erin Cunningham:
But as the two North African nations now grapple with heightened and sometimes violent unrest — the result of stalled political and economic progress — the government of Mohamed Morsi in Egypt and Tunisia’s Ennahda leadership are embracing the unreformed police forces as necessary tools to quell opposition to their rule, activists say.
Morsi attracted criticism from rights activists and appeared to confirm his authoritarian instincts last month when he replaced the minister of interior not with an outsider but a former occupant of the post and veteran Mubarak apparatchik accused of rights violations.
“Tunisians say the Ennahda-led Interior Ministry, meanwhile, continues to torture and turns a blind eye to attacks by extreme Islamists on liberal opposition groups — including the assassination of vocal government critic and human rights advocate, Chokri Belaid, earlier this month,” Cunningham observes.
That’s one reason why Ennahda Foreign Minister Rafik Abdessalem insisted on the Islamist group retaining control of the Interior Ministry rather than accept a government of neutral technocrats, one analyst notes.
Similar tensions are arising in Egypt where the Muslim Brotherhood appears content to utilize rather than reform the repressive apparatus inherited from the Mubarak regime.
“The police are returning to their ways in the time of [former Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak,” said Hafez Abu Seada, the president of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights. “They are a tool of oppression in the same way that they were. They are working for the Muslim Brotherhood now, and it should not be this way.”
Civil society groups had high hopes for reform in the country, where, according to the United States Institute for Peace — a nonpartisan group — educational standards are high for entrance into the police force, security infrastructure is solid and rules of engagement are clearly established…..But divisive political climates and ailing economies frustrated aspirations for reform.
“As political and social protests continue on the one hand, and on the other hand, the government is less able to provide — the only thing they can do as a government is repress,” said Karim Medhat Ennarah, security sector researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR).
Pro-democracy activists and rights groups in Tunisia say police abuses like protester beatings and sporadic torture continue, including against government opponents. The police force under the Ennahda government has failed to investigate or prosecute perpetrators of mostly religious-based attacks against liberal establishments like bars, art galleries and cinemas.
“Before the revolution, the ministry was very much an opponent of Ennahda,” said Ali Zeddini, vice president of the Tunisian League for the Defense of Human Rights. “Now the tables have turned, and the ministry is working in Ennahda’s interests.”
But even Egypt’s prosecutor-general, appointed by Morsi, is now spearheading an effort to protect security forces under the new government, Ennarah of the EIPR said.
The public prosecutor is renewing the detention of prisoners without evidence — sometimes without even a basic police report — EIPR said. Ennarah, who has worked with the president’s advisory team on proposals for security sector reform, said, “the role of the prosecution” in aiding police impunity is new.
According to rights groups, they proposed the immediate implementation of simple reforms to the presidential office like the creation of an independent commission to investigate the illegal use of firearms by security forces, or small monitoring teams to make visits to detainees in prison. …They were rebuffed.
“They want a compliant police force, rather than a reformed one,” Ennarah said of the Morsi administration.
“In the absence of any will or interest of any kind in reforming the security services, the government is going to constantly be at loggerheads with the population,” he said.