For decades, various autocratic regimes have used security apparatuses to bolster their rule and crush domestic opposition. But maintaining their power has come at a steep price. Security sectors in many Arab states are now deeply unpopular. In the aftermath of the Arab Spring uprisings, democratically-elected governments find themselves with the difficult task of reforming security institutions, without which they will struggle to acquire lasting political legitimacy. 

The Carnegie Middle East Center hosted Mohamed Lazhar Akremi, the first post-uprising Minister of Interior in Tunisia, Joseph Walker-Cousins, head of the British Embassy’s office in Benghazi, Colonel Mohamed Mahfouz, former head of the Department of Public Relations in the Egyptian Ministry of Interior, and General Amin Saliba, former chief of staff of the Lebanese Internal Security Forces, to discuss security sector reform. Carnegie’s Yezid Sayigh moderated. 

The Case of Egypt

  • Strategic Obstacles: Mahfouz outlined four categories of strategic challenges for security sector reform in Egypt: functional, structural, administrative, and legislative. Principally, Mahfouz argued that Egypt must both redefine the security sector and its role within society and limit the scope of its security sector, which has expanded into civilian affairs. Furthermore, he added, Egypt must address the administrative attitudes resulting from a police state and develop a new legal framework that transforms the security sector into a tool of the people rather than a regime. 
  • Tactical Obstacles: Mahfouz also identified four tactical challenges facing Egypt: accountability, militarism, leadership, and civilian integration. First, he argued, judicial oversight must be introduced because it is a critical component of any fair legal system. Moreover, the militaristic culture of security forces must be abolished because civilians now view the security services as public enemies. Poor training exacerbates the problem and inhibits security personnel from dealing properly with civilians. He suggested that the leadership of the security services must adopt a political role to improve public relations, and security sector officials must be integrated into civilian life through political engagement. 

The Case of Lebanon

Saliba noted that Lebanon is not dealing with the same revolutionary forces that have swept through much of the region. He identified several factors in Lebanon’s security sector that work in the country’s favor, including the improved training that enables them to deal with everyday criminality and the fact that security officials are not involved in oppressing personal liberties. 

  • Political Interference: Saliba said that depoliticizing the security sector is critical for meaningful reform in Lebanon. Ultimately, top security posts are assigned by a two-thirds majority vote from the cabinet. 
  • Increasing Welfare Benefits to Reduce Corruption: Saliba called for addressing the poor wages of security forces, arguing that guaranteeing their basic needs dissuades officers from corruption. For example, he noted that hospitals in Lebanon do not provide care to security forces due to a legacy of unpaid bills, making officers more susceptible to cronyism. 
  • Demographic Balancing: Saliba discussed the demographics of Lebanon’s security sector, stressing the need for all sects to have fair representation. This should, however, not deter security officers from placing national interest above sectarian allegiance during periods of active duty. 

The Case of Tunisia

Akremi argued that the Tunisian Ministry of Interior must be transformed from an ostracized and feared entity into a respected body that serves and protects citizens. He proposed two solutions:

  • Transparency: Akremi stressed the need for all security forces to be plainly identified by uniform to improve transparency. He also underlined the need for placing Tunisia’s security apparatus under the external oversight of specialized bodies.
  • Internal oversight: Akremi discussed the need for internal bodies that can oversee and respond to the diverse needs of the security apparatus. New internal bodies can also help protect the security interests of various forces and boost officer morale. 

Akremi highlighted the need to appreciate the work of security forces in ensuring domestic safety. He described witnessing security personnel performing their jobs under difficult circumstances including physical assault, often exposing themselves to danger out of professional and patriotic duty.

The Case of Libya

Walker-Cousins focused on how the removal of dictatorships has allowed for a new understanding of existing institutions. In Libya, he detailed how established interest groups are competing with emerging Islamists through the political process. Both, he argued, are vying for control over the state’s security apparatus. The revolutionaries want to purge the former security forces while the counter-revolutionaries are trying to reintegrate existing security personnel and structures. Regardless of the outcome, Walker-Cousins identified two issues that need to be addressed:

  • Border Security: Borders are open and people are moving freely into Libya, often with nefarious purposes such as ideological militancy or criminal smuggling, he explained. Emerging revolutionary groups are having difficulty controlling their long and porous borders, and the problem is exacerbated by other countries in the region that are interfering with the transitional process in Libya.
  • Absence of Vision: Walker-Cousins stressed the need for a coherent vision for Libya’s future, saying that both established groups and Islamists must develop a clear path that can lead the country forward.