Conference Recap: Security Sector Transformation in North Africa and the Middle East

As I mentioned in a previous post, last week I was able to listen in on the first international conference on Security Sector Transformation in North Africa and the Middle East.  Considering current political events to say such an event was timely or pertinent is an understatement in my opinion.

Country specialists and security sector reform experts came together to share ideas and come up with recommendations on how security reform can be achieved in the "Arab Spring" or MENA states now that the various authoritarian regimes are facing strong opposition.  I was able to listen to the former ambassadors of speak on the situations in Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen, along with a panel of security reform specialists. This was then followed by panels of former US officials and representatives from international organizations & donor governments (Canada & the UK).

Here is my summary of some of the key points the panelists and speakers came to agreement:

  • Each of the countries in the region have state-specific problems that must be met with individual solutions. Donor countries should not try to impose cookie-cutter o quick-fix solutions.  At the same time, there are some common problems in which information sharing between the states can be helpful.
  • Police not the military were the issue as the police were the primary tool of repression by the domestic ministries. This means the police must be a target of rule of law reform.
  • Effective change will take time and the individual states' political mechanisms must be given the time to create/produce credible, democratic regimes.
  • Finally, the most obvious point in my opinion, the situation and US involvement, specifically military involvement, has significantly complicated american intervention/assistance in the region.

While I found some of the points obvious, it was still enlightening to listen in on the speakers accounts of what was transpiring in MENA states. I also found it extremely interesting that the opposition and protestors viewed the police force, not the military, as the primary threat to freedom. Time and time again we have seen the extensive damage the police force (or law enforcement mechanism) of a country can inflict upon its citizens and national psyche--Haiti's death squads are a brutal example. For me, this reinforced the importance of security reform and having a law enforcement agency that respected rule of law & human rights concerns.