Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Opinion: “Who Goes There?” | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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A few weeks ago, the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi frankly spoke about the scale of problems and challenges that he faces on television. He said that his priority is to prevent the collapse of the state and remarked that “what was present in 2011 was the remnants of a state on the brink of collapse and what is happening now is the repercussions of the 50 years after 1967”.

Sisi’s remarks clearly refer to the period following the colossal 1967 defeat of the Egyptian project at the time. The energies of both the state and society were plunged for seven years into the Yom Kippur War to make up for the defeat.

This is actually what happened but there is a price for everything; everything within the state stopped in terms of development and addressing social problems, crises accumulated, society stopped being a producer, all the youth became part of armed groups, the inhabitants of three cities migrated to the canal and production halted within the economy.

A lot of the problems that we see today are the repercussions of what has happened over the last 50 years and the way that successive Egyptian governments have dealt with problems avoiding the wrath displayed on the street. There was an attempt at a real confrontation in the seventies by decisions to lift subsidies but this was badly done and was not publicized. As a result, the state faced the largest protests in its history which came to be known as the 18th and 19th of January. The government was forced to quickly reverse its decisions despite the fact that these decisions were the right ones in order to reform the economy.

Part of the Egyptian police crisis which prompted a rare public apology from its minister for the excesses of some of its members also goes back to the repercussions of the fifty years after 1967 and the arrival of some of the creative systems at a dead end.

If we go back in time, we find that the two most important developments in the police force took place in the sixties at the hands of the Interior Minister at the time Shaarawy Gomaa. He established the institute of the police trustees and formed the central security forces in 1968 after the student demonstrations against President Abdel-Nasser. The reason for these demonstrations was that the sentences handed out to leaders of the air force who were held responsible for the defeat were deemed by the public to be lenient.

At that point in time, the state found itself powerless in the face of tens of thousands of students on the streets and it only had ordinary officers to confront them with. These officers were made famous through a stereotype seen in films where they shout “Stop… who goes there” at night. Thus, the idea of police trustees and recruits was born.

Manifestations of discontent began within the system in the eighties and were known at the time as central security events. They necessitated the deployment of the army to the streets for the first time since 1952 and the reason for these manifestations is universal but no one knew the source. Some of the practices of the police contributed to the 25th of January revolution. They will not be solved overnight as is evident from the recent confrontation that necessitated the intervention of the president himself.

The solution may be to rethink the system devised by Shaarawi Gomaa in the sixties under different circumstances and that was dependent on limited possibilities for the protection of internal security whilst the army was stationed at the front. Reducing the number of personnel in the professional force and raising their salaries and benefits may be one idea.