http://english.alarabiya.net/articles/2011/06/27/155067.html

Every time I think I have managed to grasp the countless merits of the Egyptian revolution, I turn out to be sometimes naïve, other times stupid, and most of the times both. I have even reached the point of doubting that toppling the regime is the greatest of the revolution’s achievements. Egyptians are not generally a reading people. When and if they do read, it is mainly newspapers and even this many can do without if they get the news from TV or the radio. A large portion of newspaper readers usually target specific sections. I would say sports comes first—football in particular—possibly followed by local news with special emphasis on reports that relate to them in one way or another like salary raises, privatization of factories, higher traffic fines, changing exam schedules…etc. Very few were really interested in what happened outside Egypt and fewer than those few would read a book—fiction, non-fiction, or anything else. Let me point out that of course I am referring to only 70 percent of the Egyptian population, i.e. those above 15 years old who can read and write. Let me also point out that I have not based this information on any statistics and that this is purely the result of years of observation, conversations with different echelons of society, and a few readings on the disposition of the people of Egypt.

What happened after the revolution was as shocking as it was impressive. Suddenly cab drivers are debating whether the Turkish model is the best for Egypt in the coming stage, store attendants believe that merging the parliamentary and the presidential systems like in France is the most suitable solution at the moment, waiters argue between shifts that if the Islamic state means a replica of Iran then it’s out of the question, and students cite Latin America as the best example for a steady transition towards democracy. Almost everyone who would either not read at all or would only read what is entertaining for him or her and who was not very keen on learning about the rest of the world is now navigating between continents in search for what’s best for Egypt. An article in one of Egypt’s independent, and most widely-read, newspapers about the reformation of the police force in Georgia served as a prefect indicative of where the readers’ preferences are heading, and the way this article was circulated all over the internet and discussed by Egyptians of different types proved how such a topic that would have seemed totally out of context a few months ago has become so relevant now.

The way this article, entitled “The Georgian Experience in Cleansing the Police Department after the Revolution,” attracted so many readers and was the talk of so many people is not only fascinating because it reveals the rising awareness of Egyptians as far as the necessity of knowing about other countries, but also since this is Georgia. It would be interesting to know how many Egyptians knew of Georgia and how many thought this is only the name of a US state—and even this we are not sure they knew—and how many knew it is a former Soviet Republic—or how many knew the Soviet Union existed—and how many of those who have heard the name—possibly in the news during the conflict with Russia—really remember where in the world it was. It is even more fascinating because this is not a story about Georgia in a global context—joining the NATO for example—but a very local one—reforming the police after a revolution that toppled an illegitimate regime. I guess the topic makes us much less surprised that Georgian domestic affairs have suddenly become known to average Egyptians for whom nothing is more soothing now than hearing stories about eliminating police brutality, be that in the Caucasus or the West Indies.

“If you spot on the highway that links the airport to the Georgian capital Tbilisi a gigantic glass building surrounded by gardens, do not think it is the opera house or an art museum. It is the headquarters of the Georgian Ministry of Interior,” said the article that made of this building a metaphor of the “transparency” the ministry decided to adopt after the Rose Revolution toppled former President Eduard Shevardnadze. This word is for Egyptians what chocolate cake is for somebody who had been on a diet for a year and the fact that it came into effect in a relatively short time—the revolution took place in 2003—given the corruption of the toppled regime makes the story all the more inspiring to a country struggling to turn a new leaf. The real, or let’s say the most astounding, inspiration is who orchestrated and implemented this cleansing of the police: Ekaterine Zguladze, a woman who was 27 years old when she was made deputy interior minister of the new Georgia and who is credited for “ending decades of police oppression,” as the article puts it.

Unlike the Egyptian government that started its purging process with the notorious State Security, Zguladze started with the Traffic Department. “I chose the Traffic Department because it is the one people dealt with on daily basis and they knew how corrupt it was. It was an ugly department. They collected bribes not only from drivers but also from pedestrians,” said Zguladze to justify such an unlikely beginning. The change was radical and quite shocking, for the entire department was disbanded and 18,000 officers were dismissed. It was also pretty risky: “We were afraid. They were armed and knew each other and had connections with criminals and outlaws, but we had to get rid of them.” It was within a month that the miracle happened. The Police Academy curriculum, also held partly accountable for officers’ violence in Egypt, underwent a total makeover while the ministry started recruiting replacements from amongst the thousands of civilians who were subjected to meticulous physical and psychological tests, extensive interviews, and general knowledge quizzes. There was, Zguladze stressed, one important criterion that determined whether the applicant is fit for the job: “He had to have the urge to serve others and not serve himself.”

After the month passed, the Traffic Department was replaced by the Patrol Police that made a stellar appearance in the streets of Georgia. “People were shocked,” she said. “The police were like creatures from Mars. How could there be officers who do not ask for bribes and do not accept bribes if offered to them?” The Traffic Department was the beginning of and a rehearsal for a series of reformations in other police departments—State Security, Investigation Bureau, Border Police… etc.—and dealing with the vacuum that resulted from withdrawing all traffic officers from the streets constituted a good exercise on dealing with similar situations that arose as the cleansing was taking its charted course.

The situation in Egypt is of course not similar to that in Georgia and it would have been difficult to make a similar start since at the time when State Security has become every Egyptian’s nightmare, very few really cared about traffic—as corrupt as traffic officers and employees at the Traffic Department were—and not even those few would have been relieved had disbanding it been the first step on the road towards the reconstruction of the Interior Ministry. In fact, the two actions are not really that different, for each country chose to do away with what the people perceived as their staunchest enemy. However, the details are not what matters. What does is the rationale behind them, the philosophy that enabled a young civilian woman to effect such a phenomenal change. It was not just about hunting down the corrupt and taking them to court, Zguladze pointed out. It was changing an entire culture in which corruption had become a daily occurrence so it no longer became a crime and even turned into a socially acceptable practice. It was then that she realized that the Interior Ministry is not just an executive body and that raising awareness is no less important of a duty than maintaining law and order. “We had to start redefining corruption so that we could win the people to our side and make them our partners in fighting the same battle.”

The ministry had, therefore, decided to no longer play the villain-in-the-ivory-tower role and to reach out to the people and bridge that gap that kept widening as more abuses were inflicted upon citizens by their so-called protectors. I personally find achieving this within such a short time a continuation of Zguladze’s Mars metaphor, for imaging trust being restored between the people and the police in Egypt in a manner that makes them act as one unified entity is currently as far fetched as seeing the Muslim Brotherhood call for a secular state even though claiming that no progress has been made at all in that direction would be extremely unfair on my part. As if Zguladze is listening to our concerns, she gives one more of the secret ingredients of her wholesome recipe: “What guaranteed the success of our mission was giving the police something they had never had before: self respect.” I am not really sure how Egyptian cops saw themselves and whether they learned in the academy that self-respect is derived from the ability to suppress, but as long as we assume that those cops were still human beings, there must have been a part in them that realized how despicable what they did was, especially if they reflect for one moment a day how people look down upon them even as they fear them. Turning a policeman from a criminal to a guard will not only allow him to respect himself and his job, but will also turn the people from an enemy that reminds them of their baseness to a friend that is grateful for their services.

There is so much to learn from a Eurasian country more than 1,200 miles away from Egypt, a country that made true one of our most precious dreams. However, let me tell you that the Georgian miracle is not just about the recreation of the police and the concept of policing. It is who did that and which, I am afraid, would be the toughest bit if we decide to follow suit down to the minutest detail. Imagine a woman in her twenties taking charge of the entire police force. Well, that would not only require changing the culture, but rather the entire population—remember we’re still debating whether women deserve to be judges and whether the only way they can get parliament seats is through imposing a quota system—with one that does not feel humiliated by taking instructions from a member of the gentle sex and that does not see women empowerment as a fatal blow to manhood.

Until this happens—we’ll wait for long I believe—could we have Ms. Ekaterine Zguladze on loan?