Egyptians feel safer but at high cost for security forces

A change of security strategies and more dependence on technology were among just a few of the steps Egypt followed to overcome security challenges.
Sunday 17/06/2018
Progress despite challenges. Egyptian security forces stand guard in central Abdin neighbourhood in Cairo.  (AFP)
Progress despite challenges. Egyptian security forces stand guard in central Abdin neighbourhood in Cairo. (AFP)

CAIRO - Egypt has been given an unexpectedly advanced position in a new international security index, demonstrating citizens’ confidence in local police.

Egypt totalled 88 points in Gallup’s “Law and Order Index,” which ranks countries by confidence citizens state for local police and whether citizens feel safe on the streets. The index puts Egypt tied for tenth among 142 countries. Singapore topped the list with 97 points. Afghanistan (45 points) and Venezuela (44) were at the bottom of the chart.

Gallup researchers conducted 148,000 interviews on the phone and in person with adults in 142 countries to prepare the index.

Not all MENA countries were included but for those that were polled, Jordan was ranked with 86 points, Israel and Iran with 82, Morocco 81, Algeria 79, Lebanon 78, Tunisia 75, the Palestinian Territories 72, Iraq and Yemen 71 each and Libya 67. For comparison, the United Kingdom totalled 86 points and France and the United States both 84.

For a country involved in a years-long fight against terrorism, few could have expected Egypt’s strong showing in the poll.

A change of security strategies, more dependence on technology and the full operation of important security agencies were among just a few of the steps Egypt followed to overcome security challenges, experts said.

“Dependence on technology, including in the collection of information about potential terrorist threats, is proving effective in ending these threats before they translate into action that wreaks havoc on our security,” said Mohamed Noureddine, a former assistant to the interior minister. “Results in this regard can be felt by ordinary people.”

Egypt has moved a long way from the security chaos it suffered following the 2011 uprising against longstanding ruler Hosni Mubarak. When the anti-Mubarak uprising erupted, dozens of police stations, police facilities and jails were attacked. Many were set on fire and weapons were taken from others.

Thousands of inmates broke out of Egyptian jails during the chaos, including some of the country’s most dangerous terrorists. The escaped prisoners were believed to be responsible for a rise in crimes and terrorist atrocities.

Approximately 1,000 policemen have been killed since 2011 in terrorism-related attacks.

When Muslim Brotherhood-backed Muhammad Morsi rose to power in 2012, his administration fired or forced proficient policemen to retire. It dissolved the State Security Investigation Service, now known as the Homeland Security Agency, one of Egypt’s main domestic intelligence agencies.

The agency collected intelligence on Islamist militants and activists.

“This was a deadly blow to the security establishment,” said retired police General Mamdouh al-Kidwani. “The elimination of the agency meant that all the databases about terrorist cells, terrorist groups and terrorists were lost.”

During the anti-Mubarak uprising, the headquarters of the agency was ransacked by political activists and important files and documents were stolen.

Some of the agency’s prominent officers were killed in targeted assassinations. Many said this pointed to a systematic plan to disrupt Egypt’s intelligence-gathering capabilities.

Egypt’s toughest challenge remains its war against terrorism. Security analysts say militant groups gained ground quickly in Egypt because of intelligence failures.

“This was why it took the security agencies time to create a new database about these terrorists before cracking down on them,” Kidwani said.

Apart from bringing the Homeland Security Agency back to operation, Cairo provided police with updated equipment, including advanced weapons.

Egypt beefed up security along its borders, particularly the Libya and the Gaza Strip frontiers where Cairo suspected arms, explosives and militants were being smuggled into the country.

The renewed focus on security, even as it invited criticism over alleged human rights infringements, has paid dividends. Most of the Egyptians interviewed by Gallup researchers for the index said they felt safe walking on the streets at night.

That sense of well-being is supported by statistics that indicate fewer attacks in recent months.

In the first half of 2017, 75 terrorist attacks took place in Egypt. However, in the first half of 2018, only 12 attacks were carried out, the Interior Ministry said.

“If this shows anything, it shows that we are on the right track,” Noureddine said. “Making a country like Egypt secure is a tough mission but policemen are paying with their lives and blood to succeed in this mission.”