Since mass-protests toppled Egypt’s long-time ruler Hosni Mubarak in February 2011, the country has entered a drawn-out transition period, initially dominated by the country’s powerful military and the Muslim Brotherhood. It is now increasingly fragmented; with corporate interests, allies of the former regime and hitherto marginalised elements of the revolutionary coalition coming to the fore in equal measure.
Central grievances that mobilised Egyptians to protest
These include police abuses and impunity, a lack of space for political participation for all Egyptians, and the ability to exercise core social and economic rights. Grievances against the security forces were central to mobilising Egyptians to revolt in January 2011. Mubarak’s police had become a symbol of abusive and corrupt power and police stations were burned down throughout the country. Since then, conflict in Egypt has continued to flare-up around police operations and perceived impunity. From events that caught the national imagination such as the Port Said massacre or the battle for Mohamed Mahmoud Street, to local events where deaths in custody or police use of force sparked pitched battles in the towns and cities of Upper Egypt and Sinai, the police have returned to the same abusive and heavy-handed manner as before. Egyptian stakeholders on all sides of the political spectrum identify police reform as a critical issue for a peaceful and sustainable transition.
Political life in Egypt is freer than under Mubarak, but the insistence on early elections and a rushed Constitution-writing process has penalised emerging political actors and deepened partisan divides. In particular, women have been side-lined in the transition. Women’s rights are being questioned by conservative political actors on religious grounds and are only shakily-enshrined in the new Constitution. Opponents have attempted to tar women’s rights as an imposition by Suzanne Mubarak, the former President’s wife. There has also been a sustained increase in violence against women that appears to be reducing women’s ability to access public space and make their voices heard.
The overall objective of our work in Egypt is to support stronger and more co-operative relations between the state and society in Egypt with a special emphasis on reforming the role of the security and justice sectors. Work started in late 2011.
More co-operative state-society relations
To date, we have worked with a coalition of Egyptian NGOs, to support their work on police reform. We are providing the National Initiative for Police Reform with technical advice on key reform issues such as oversight and accountability of the police, as well as providing them with lessons from police reform in other contexts. In January 2013 Saferworld organised a study tour for activists to discuss police reform issues in Northern Ireland and London.
The National Initiative has become an important authority on police reform in Egypt and has built relations with Egyptian Ministries, the Parliament, Shura Council and the President’s Office, while continuing to play a key role in documenting police abuses and serious human rights concerns under the current system.
Securing freedoms for all Egyptians
Highly visible and active during the protests that toppled President Mubarak, Egyptian women have faced a backlash since. Their rights are being called into question and sexual harassment and other forms of gender based violence are on the rise.
As part of our regional programme on women, peace and security, we are working with Egyptian women to address issues of women’s political participation and their personal safety through joint research, workshops and conferences conducted with the Alliance for Arab Women.