The idea of security sector reform (SSR) in the Arab region seems highly unrealistic, given the sensitivity of the issues involved. Local initiatives from within the Arab world, however, mean that the topic is gaining prominence.
The security sector in many Arab countries suffers from several structural, functional and technical problems. These include insufficient training for relevant actors; the lack of legal frameworks that would promote transparency, for instance in finance; a lack of respect for human rights; and ethnic and sectarian divisions.
International scrutiny and support is mostly focused on technical aspects. For instance, in Palestine, the bulk of international interventions aim at improving safety from a technical perspective, without subscribing to more holistic reform. In Lebanon, donors’ logistical assistance to the security sector does not contribute to the development of public safety or national security, and sidesteps debate on the real problems the sector faces. Both European and US programmes tend to work within such limited spheres, but a broader understanding of SSR is crucial.
In addition, it has been difficult for Arab civil society representatives to engage with those in charge of the security sector in their countries. Despite measures taken to facilitate this process, the sector, like the political regimes that control it, remains resistant to change.
The Arab Reform Initiative (ARI), a network of independent Arab research and policy institutes, aims to promote democratic reform from within the region. Through its Security Sector Reform Project, ARI aims to relocate the debate within general political reform, rather than confining it to the security sector.
The project undertook empirical research in Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Yemen, focusing on the following:
- the role of security services, their structure and their reform needs
- the privatisation of the sector in a number of countries (such as Lebanon and Jordan) and the creation of private security firms
- fragmentation in other countries, in relation to tribalism or sectarian conflicts (in Yemen and Iraq for example)
- the rule of law and the role of justice in the management of security issues, as well as control over security services
- the impact of foreign interventions, often presented as reform and modernisation
- how local and regional conflicts influence security
- gender issues.
Discussions and open debates on the findings were subsequently held, involving a range of stakeholders. This included civil society groups, the media, academics and, most importantly, representatives from the security services. These meetings illustrated the possibility of a constructive approach towards, and proper debate around SSR, rather than discussions limited to denunciation and protest.
Arab countries are now engaging with the debate on SSR. Although it remains limited, given the political environment in which it is occurring, the very existence of debate deserves some merit.
SSR project of Arab Reform Initiative
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