Restructuring security apparatuses

Up until the start of the current crisis, the general feeling in Syria was that the regime was capable, through the presence of its fearsome security apparatuses that are highly skilled and have unique expertise, to isolate Syria from the wave of upheaval that stormed the region and Syria’s neighbours throughout the previous years.

Despite that some, like those who sought playing a public role in the political life from outside the regime or Islamists, were subject to pressures of various levels from these security apparatuses (like harassment, detention, torture or sentences of imprisonment by special courts), the majority of Syrians accepted to a certain extent the role that security forces played in the public life, despite the controversial practices by them, in exchange for keeping peace and security in the country. The spread of many jokes and sarcasm of the role of those organisations, whether among the public or even in drama and comedy series that easily found their way to the official TV, is nothing but an indirect notion of the acceptance of the situation that prevailed in that domain.

The crisis, however, shook this image that prevailed for many years, and many Syrians felt that these security apparatuses were not at the expected level, with regards to efficiency and effectiveness, as the Syrian borders appeared loose in front of the flood of weapons and militants, whether Syrians who found shelter in the neighbouring countries and started crossing borders back and forth or Arab and foreign jihadists who flooded into Syria. Many rumours also spread, and some of which is true, about the collaboration of some who are inside some of the security apparatuses with those who carried out acts of violence against the army, public and private establishments and civilians. Many Syrians feel that the security apparatuses failed to anticipate the crisis, due to several reasons that vary between corruption, inefficiency or even ideological beliefs of some elements that contradict national beliefs. Moreover, their performance in managing the crisis and limiting its damage was not convincing.

In addition to that, some video clips were leaked throughout the crisis, especially at its start, which show the violent treating of the security apparatuses with some groups, of whom some had committed criminal offences and some were simple peaceful demonstrators. These clips showed the lack of security professionalism in dealing with peaceful demonstrators and the violations and offences that were committed against them, and showed the regime as a violent and tyrannical regime that was unable to deal with the opposing view.

On another hand, many Syrians believe that the security apparatuses, especially the military ones among them, were the greater reason, in addition to the coherence and might of the military establishment, why Syria resisted the militant insurgency that was backed by the outside and had patronage and training by some of the regional countries and other countries of the world. Many Syrians also believe that the security apparatuses managed to foil terrorist activities in their earlier stages that could have resulted in many casualties among civilians and in the ranks of the army and security forces. It is also fair to look at the performance of the security apparatuses in light of the huge support that the militant insurgents receive, and the huge political, diplomatic and popular pressure that these apparatuses were subject to.

Practically speaking, the case against the security apparatuses, as per opposition groups, is that they still represent an additional authority, and many accuse all reforms, including the abolition of the emergency law, that they protected the security apparatuses from any legal questioning. The crisis proved, according to their view, that the security forces were incapable of explaining many behaviours and remained, at the same time, outside judicial accountability.

One of the important subjects that should be noted in the process of restructuring is the issue that is related to separating a religious person and an extremist. The religious groups of the Syrian society must be reassured that they won’t be target of security harassment, and that their religious freedom would be respected side by side with that of all other groups, and that anti-terrorism laws won’t be used to tighten religious freedoms, as long as those freedoms are a personal thing and that the person in question is not involved in any specific activities that are proven by clear evidence and form a danger to public security or national unity.

These apparatuses still play an important role in protecting Syria from the more dangerous consequences of the crisis. Moreover, many leaders and elements of these apparatuses have discipline, efficiency and national spirit, and these work hard to protect citizens on a number of levels. Also, some of the security apparatuses chiefs have exceptional expertise in the affairs of extremist militant organisations in the region, and many of them proved their loyalty to the country and their non-corrupt nature. However, some of their practices need a lot of development and training, and some other must be classified as crimes that are punishable by law.

It is important, in the restructuring process of the security apparatuses, that this would not lead to security vacuum that citizens would pay for. At the same time, it should lead to a comprehensive modernisation of these apparatuses that would make a true change in dealing with security risks and put those apparatuses under the authority of the people, through specialised parliamentary committees. It is clear that combating the corruption of the security apparatuses and preventing their interference in civil and political appointments, and implementing mechanisms to audit their work is needed, without harming the confidentiality and efficiency of their operations, and without making such operations subject to political mood, as in the case in some regional states. The most important elements in this reform remains to be getting rid of the corrupt leaderships wherever they are present, and to limit the mission of the security apparatuses to protecting the safety of the homeland and the unity of its territories, and to divert all daily tasks (audit on institutions and individuals) to the police, the public attorney and the judiciary.

It is also important that absolute support is provided to the security apparatuses in their specific mission of protecting Syria, its citizens and the state apparatuses. This support could not be achieved without reaching a certain level of transparency that allows for consolidating public trust in those apparatuses, their role and their practices. Judicial audit over the work of the security apparatuses play an important role in this domain, through making the offences that may be committed by the security apparatuses subject to civil law, excluding them from immunity, and making available bringing their elements before a fair trial when they commit violations or offences.

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