Transition in Egypt: Lessons from a Little Country

Having lived through the postwar political and economic transition in El Salvador starting in 1992, several big issues come to my mind that the Egyptians will have to face. (I agree, El Salvador and Egypt have very different historical origins and peoples.)

One major task is to reform the police force.  A big problem when you have a police force that has been an agent of the dictatorship, rather than protecting the community, and when the police have violated human rights through torturing, assassinating and making arbitrary arrests,  an urgent task is to reform the police force.  You have to kick out the worst elements, retrain the new forces and bring in people who represents diverse elements of society, inculcating a culture of human rights and installing an accepted  civilian leadership.  You have to create trust with the police, and this is urgent for the transition to democracy.

Secondly, kicking out the worst elements of the police will probably increase personal violence, kidnappings, etc. because you putting on the street the worst social elements of the police.  This was especially bad in El Salvador and crime and violence has been a major force constraining economic development in El Salvador.

Thirdly, the pervasive corruption in the Mubarak period cannot be changed over night and, in effect, it may never be changed,  but only scaled down somewhat.  This will depend on how hard civil society works against corruption.  New government procurement measures will change gradually and with fresh, honest leadership, but there will be huge resistance to alter the patterns of corruption with more government transparency, because of the large numbers of people who benefit from the system.

Fourth, the legal system has to be reformed. The courts absolutely have to be trusted, the selection of judges must be moved out of the political system and people have to see that justice is being meted out.

The political system has to be thrown open, while the lack of political organizations and experience will take a long time to create.  For example, it has been twenty years for the opposition party in El Salvador to elect a president (the current one).  The key is participation, financing political organization for the creation of trust in the community.  (El Salvador is a very different case because the major opposition party, the FMLN, represents the ex-guerrilla movement.)

There are many other elements that go into a real political transition, but the above are essential, and I have not commented on the need for a “truth” or “human rights” commission to establish a transparent history.

About Stephen E. McGaughey
International consultant in economic development programs and projects

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