Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large

Reconciliation's role after revolutions

Egypt's state security service has been disbanded, and there will be prosecutions for the crimes of the past, but there must be room for reconciliation as well.

On the edge of Tahrir Square, the Egyptian military has taken over a wing of the national museum. Protesters who have been detained there say that they had been beaten by soldiers, shaking confidence in the armed forces who have been seen as the only guarantor of the country's stability.

The scene is all-too familiar from the abuses of the Mubarak regime. Protesters who have taken over state security offices have discovered, to no one's surprise, a trove of evidence detailing systematic torture and detention without cause.

How can past crimes be held to account? It is a question not just for the "new" Egypt, but for Tunisia and potentially other regimes as well. Dictators may have fallen, but the state apparatus is still in the hands of the old guard - generals, politicians and bureaucrats who were part of the previous regimes.

But in both Egypt and Tunisia, the most visible figures of the old regimes - the prime ministers designated by the departing presidents - have been sacked. And on Tuesday, Egypt's interior ministry shut down the state security service, the feared agency that had wielded all of those instruments of torture. Tunisia's secret police were disbanded earlier in the month. It remains to be seen what will happen to these enforcers of yesterday's police states, not to mention the ordinary police who haven't returned to their posts in some cases.

Certainly there will be criminal actions. The bodies cannot remain buried forever; just look at Argentina, where prosecutions are still being pursued almost 30 years after the dirty war. Victims and their families will demand, and deserve, answers. Already the assets of the Mubarak and Ben Ali clans, not to mention the Qaddafis, are under investigation.

How far purges will extend could shape these fledgling democracies. There are lessons from the catastrophic de-Baathification policy in Iraq, where even low-level bureaucrats were forced out not because they were guilty of crimes but because of party membership. That, along with the disbanding of the Iraqi army, was a recipe for conflict.

There must be room for reconciliation as well. As one example, Egypt's military, a pillar of the old regime, has been the most powerful institution since the revolution, and should be a supporter of a new government. The sooner soldiers stop beating protesters, the easier that transition will be.

Back to the top

More articles

Editor's Picks

 Above, the private pool of Ocean Heights' five-bedroom penthouse flat. Courtesy Christie’s International Real Estate

In pictures: Penthouse flat is height of Dubai luxury living

A five-bedroom penthouse in Ocean Heights in Dubai Marina is on sale for Dh25 million and comes with a private pool and an unparalleled view of Dubai.

 Rolling out the structure for the set. Mona Al Marzooqi / The National

Star Wars: Episode VII evidence in Abu Dhabi desert

After more than a week of speculation, The National has what are believed to be the first photos of a Star Wars shoot in the Abu Dhabi desert.

 Children walk past an Indian voter awareness mural in Mumbai ahead of the sixth phase of India’s national elections. Indranil Mukherjee / AFP

Inside India: Election, Promoting the Vote

A view of news and daily life on the Indian subcontinent for the week of April 10, 2014.

 INVERNESS, SCOTLAND - APRIL 16:  A general view of Urquhart Castle, Drumnadrochit on April 16, 2014 in Scotland. A referendum on whether Scotland should be an independent country will take place on September 18, 2014.  (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Map of seperatist movements around the world

The conflict in Ukraine is a classic example of competing aspirations and identities – here’s a look at seperatist movements around the world.

 Hassan Abdullah, who goes by the name Abu Mahmoud, an Emirati fisherman, poses for a portrait at the Al Rughayalat Port. Abu Mahmoud was born and raised in Fujairah city and has been working as a fisherman since 1968. “I’m a shark man”, he says, “I was born in the sea.” Silvia Razgova / The National

In pictures: Fishing communities in the Northern Emirates

Fishermen in Fujairah and Umm Al Qaiwain worry that new regulations to protect fish stocks are harming their trade. We look at both communities through the lens of our photographers.

 The cast of Fast & Furious 7, including Michelle Rodriguez and Vin Diesel, centre, on set at Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

Fast & Furious 7 filming in full swing at Emirates Palace

Filming for Fast & Furious 7 has started and we have the first photos of the cast and crew on set at Emirates Palace hotel this morning. Visitors staying at Emirates Palace say they have been kept away from certain areas in the grounds.


To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National