The Mideastwire Blog

Excerpts from the Arab and Iranian Media & Analysis of US Policy in the Region

Some (very humble) criticism of Yezid Sayigh’s last security sector report: The missing ingredient-what is to be done now?

Yezid Sayigh is, of course, one of the leading thinkers working on the Middle East and a great teacher for many of our friends and colleagues (and someone from whom I have learned a great deal as well!). His last Carnegie report on security sectors in the region is excellent in diagnosing the problems of security sector reform – just as the previous ones were excellent in pointing out where reform efforts went badly off track during the great missed opportunity period of 2011-2012 or so.

My (humble) criticism of this report is that it leaves the reader and policy-maker with little in the way of what to do to get things back on track. Indeed, he concludes using terms like “effectively insoluble” and “seemingly intractable,” that together generate an aura of impossibility as to the reform task at hand.

I would argue that we need from Yezid and others more work on what is to be done now regarding (what I think is) the critical binary: Is the co-opting approach to the security sector tenable anymore (ICG and Mikhail argued for this last July) or should hard power and confrontational tactics be used to get the vital business of reform moving again (Fadil Aliriza at Legatum has argued this)?

I have argued for the latter approach when it comes to Tunisia for a variety of Tunisia-specific factors, but more work is desperately needed from experts like Yezid and others about what precisely this binary means (is it more complicated than this? Surely…. how might a hybrid approach work and with what costs and risks?).

This is the main event – and the subject of long arguments in Tunisia. These arguments MUST be fleshed out as soon as possible since Security Sector reform underpins the whole structure of these transitional countries and will, I believe and Yezid seems to argue, determine whether they succeed or fail in the face of ISIS et al., socio-economic breakdown, and widespread disillusionment.

I wrote about these subjects in a mostly superficial way (with a concrete proposal for a hybrid International-Tunisian corruption tribunal) here:

“Another Middle Eastern State Could Collapse, and More Cash and Weapons Won’t Save It”/Tablet, September 2015

“Why 60,  65 and 114 US-based experts are wrong in believing that more cash and weapons will help save Tunisia”/Mideastwire Blog, October 2015


…The Arab states in transition will arrive at diverse political and institutional outcomes in relation to their security sectors. But all are headed toward novel, hybrid forms that combine formal and informal policing and adjudication; familiar patronage-based recruitment and promotion along with increasingly pervasive monetized opportunities in the gray economy; and a mix of centralized and decentralized modes of control over the means and uses of coercion.72 Many of the problems that have led to this outlook are effectively insoluble, such as the inadequacy of resources. But in all cases, the magnitude of the challenge threatens the Arab states in protracted transition with repeated lapses into repression, kleptocracy, and civil strife.

The Arab states in transition are confronted with a seemingly intractable task: rebuilding state institutions and social contracts in an era of global change. Conventional approaches to security sector reform that fail to grasp the dilemmas and challenges complicating this effort, or that reduce it to a simplistic relationship between reform and democratization, are certain to fail.


…the experience of Arab states demonstrates that this [Western+NGO] approach fails to address, let alone resolve, the dilemmas thrown up by transition.

Professionalization and modernization of the security sector requires developing greater specialization and competence as well as upgrading criteria for recruitment, training, work places, and equipment. It also requires improving salaries, in-service benefits, and pensions, and enhancing management of human and material resources. All this represents a significant investment for Arab states in transition that are already financially strapped, making it difficult for these reforms to gain traction…

Read more Here


Written by nickbiddlenoe

March 31, 2016 at 10:27 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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