Reforming the Arab Security State

WASHINGTON, DC – Experience across the Arab world demonstrates that when it comes to security-sector reform, technocratic approaches are inadequate. Simply put, a technocratic focus on upgrading skills and operational capability, in the absence of improved governance of the security services, can be easily subverted by anti-reform coalitions, resulting in the continuation of regressive patterns of behavior.

This is especially true in polarized political and social environments – the most obvious cases today being Egypt, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen, not to mention Bahrain and Syria. But even in countries where there is some degree of political pluralism and an absence of civil strife or domestic armed conflict – such as Lebanon and Tunisia, and potentially the Palestinian Authority and Algeria – incremental approaches can achieve only partial success. Creating a fully modernized and accountable security service requires more than technocratic tinkering.

Regardless of formal legal frameworks, barriers to effective audits prevent the monitoring of financial flows to and within the police and internal security agencies. Moreover, such institutions are often able to absorb formal anti-corruption training and yet continue with business as usual.

For effective security-sector reform in the Arab world to occur, the shroud of secrecy surrounding the sector must be removed. But among the Arab states, only Yemen drafted a Freedom of Information law after 2011. Conversely, several state institutions blocked a proposal by Egypt’s Central Auditing Agency for legislation stipulating citizens’ right to access information regarding corruption in any governmental agency.