The role of the General Administrationin drug abuse control in Egypt
Reduction of illicit drug demand
Author: Sami Assaad FARAG
Pages: 27 to 31
Creation Date: 1980/01/01
Former Member of the International Narcotics Control Board; Director, Anti-Narcotics General Administration, Cairo, Egypt
In March 1979, the Arab Republic of Egypt commemorated two important events in the history of the effort to free man from the grip of drugs. To begin with, there was the fiftieth anniversary of the establishment of the first agency in the world specifically set up to control drug trafficking, the Central Narcotics Information Bureau, under the Cairo Governorate, established on 20 March 1929; secondly, there was the centenary of the promulgation, on 29 March 1879, of the first Egyptian legislation prohibiting the import and cultivation of cannabis.
Abuse of cocaine and heroin had spread in Egypt after the First World War, and the Central Narcotics Information Bureau was set up to deal with the dangers inherent in such drugs.
From the second year of its existence, the Bureau was active at an international level. In 1930 and subsequent years, the head of the Bureau participated in the annual meetings of the Advisory Committee on Opium and Dangerous Drugs.
Later, the Administration for Narcotics Control, which replaced the Central Bureau, was always represented at regular and special sessions of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, held at the United Nations Office at Geneva.
Five years after it was set up, the Bureau already had three branches: in Alexandria, Port Said and Suez. In 1935, a decree promulgated by the Cabinet provided for two new branches to be set up in Lower and Upper Egypt, at Tanta and Assiout respectively. Later, the number of branches increased to cover the entire Egyptian territory.
On 30 October 1947, a decree by the Minister of the Interior replaced the Central Bureau by a service called the "Administration for Narcotics Control", within the Department of Public Security.
In January 1976, the Administration for Narcotics Control became, by Presidential Decision No. 39 of 1976, a "General Administration". As a central agency, the Administration was provided with the manpower and resources needed for dealing with the problem of narcotic drugs which had become a matter for concern at both national and international level. A further Ministerial Decree, No. 1630 of 1976, provided for the reorganization of the General Administration and the creation of new branches throughout the territory.
Legislative texts paralleled this administrative evolution. An offence concerning narcotic drugs changed from being a minor infraction (Decree of 29 March 1879 and subsequent royal decrees and ministerial orders), to being a misdemeanour (Decree of 1925, which took into consideration the discussions on the 1925 Convention signed at Geneva), then to being a misdemeanour subject to heavy penalties, and finally a felony (Decree-Law No. 351 of 1952). Law 182 of 1960, amended, is now the latest legislative instrument concerniug drug control and the regulation of the narcotics traffic. This law provides that the court, instead of sentencing to imprisonment, may order the drug user to be placed in a sanatorium for treatment; the length of hospitalization must not be shorter than six months, nor longer than two years. This provision illustrates the objective desire and firm resolution to rehabilitate drug addicts. In fact, these sick persons who, in most cases, are suffering from psychological disturbances and moral frustrations, are not inherently criminal. We must therefore offer them a helping hand and do everything in our power to rehabilitate them. In this context, legislation also stipulates that public action shall not be taken against any person who, being a habitual drug user, goes of his own free will to a sanatorium for treatment.
Cannabis resin is the favourite drug of Egyptian addicts and the one most widely used. It comes from Lebanon and 75 per cent of the production is smuggled in. Next in line are psychotropic substances, particularly methaqualone, the most commonly used in Egypt; these come from European countries where they are manufactured. Opium comes last, because of its high price, although traditionally it occupied second place. It comes from Asia.
In its early days, the Central Bureau was concerned mainly with eradicating the problem of white drugs (heroin and cocaine). Next, the Administration for Narcotics Control tried to terminate illicit trafficking in black drugs (cannabis resin and opium) and, at present, it is doing everything in its power to avert the more recent danger of "narcotic pills" (psychotropic substances) and illicit cultivation of cannabis and opium poppy, as shown by the most important seizures made for 50 years: 28.5 tonnes of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances in 1977. Seizures of illicit crops (cannabis and poppy) have also reached a record figure: more than 6 million poppy and cannabis plants in 1978 as against 3 million in 1977.
To complete the picture, the Administration had to deal with the dangers caused by psychotropic substances which were increasingly abused in the late 1960s and early 1970s. A list of various psychotropic substances was drawn up and samples were sent to the Ministry of Health for analysis. After a joint study carried out by the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of the Interior, Decree No. 295, promulgated by the Ministry of Health in 1976, included the most dangerous psychotropic substances in narcotics table 1. They have thus become subject to the same provisions as narcotic drugs with regard to crime and penalties. The less harmful psychotropic substances were also subjected to strict regulation under Ministerial Decree No. 301 of 1976, which made them available in relatively small quantities on medical prescription, the registers specially kept for the control of these prescriptions being subject to inspection and verification. All these decrees show a strong desire to keep abreast of recent scientific theories and comply with the provisions of the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances which came into force on 16 August 1977.
Formerly, illicit crops posed no problem. They consisted of very small clandestine plantings for personal use. But the situation has changed and today these plantings have reached a disturbing size since farmers have come to realize the attractive income which they can provide. Although these crops have never reached the same proportion as in the countries producing opium poppy and cannabis, the Administration spares no efforts to eradicate them.
In collaboration with the Academy of Scientific Research, the Administration is carrying out studies at the present time on the use of infra-red rays in long-distance aerial detection of clandestine plantings scattered among legal crops, something which would make destruction campaigns easier and more effective.
Moreover, the Administration has just prepared a draft amendment to the law on narcotic drugs providing for confiscation of land on which illicit crops are grown, in order to safeguard the integrity of agriculture in Egypt and avoid the use of any part of its land in a way which might be harmful to the economic and social potential of the nation or disturb its structure.
The Administration deserves the credit for the initiation of anti-narcotics co-operation among Arab countries. In response to a request, a decree was promulgated on 26 August 1950 by the Political Commission of the Arab League with a view to setting up a Permanent Narcotics Bureau concerned with drug-abuse problems in Arab States. Evolving over the years, this Bureau has become the "Arab Narcotics Bureau", a specialized organ of the Arab Organization for Social Defence against Crime.
At international level, Egypt is a party to international conventions on narcotic drugs including the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961, as amended by the 1972 Protocol, and the Convention on Psychotropic Substances, 1971. Furthermore, a Bilateral Protocol for Co-operation on Drug-Traffic Control has been concluded between Egypt and Turkey. This instrument was signed at Cairo on 1 March 1978 and is a contribution to the international community's anti-narcotics campaign.
The Administration realizes that all these efforts will be in vain if the concerted anti-narcotics programme is not pursued conscientiously at international level or if efforts are relaxed. It believes firmly in the need for international co-operation and collaborates actively with the control bodies in Arab countries and elsewhere. The personnel of the Administration maintains close and cordial relations, based on mutual respect and comprehension, with those bodies. In October 1978, within the framework of this co-operation, the Third Conference of the International Association for Narcotics Control in the Third World was held in Cairo. Representatives of more than 20 African, Asian, European, American and Arab countries attended. The Conference achieved its aims and permitted an exchange of views among officials responsible for drug control.
Nevertheless, the Administration is not content just to seize narcotic drugs and arrest traffickers. It also plays an important role in the prevention of the dangers incurred by persons becoming drug users, and in the treatment and rehabilitation of drug addicts.
With regard to prevention, it should be mentioned that the Central Bureau has profited from collaboration with private associations, including the Egyptian Red Crescent Society and the International Association of the Salvation Army, which have organized lectures on narcotic drugs and their harmful effects, illustrated by slides. The Administration, in its turn, conscientiously continues the role of its predecessor. In its sphere of activities, in collaboration with the Central Association for the Control of Alcoholism and Addictions, it has held an international conference on the danger of narcotic drugs to progress in which a large number of senior officials and persons concerned with the problem participated.
In the field of treatment and rehabilitation, the Administration has invited the appropriate competent authorities to care for drug addicts. A social measures division has been set up within the Administration to assist addicts and encourage them to be treated; this division places addicts in sanatoria, helps them to overcome any difficulties during treatment and provides the necessary help for their families while they are in hospital.
Furthermore, the Administration is convinced of the importance of information in this field and carries out an intensive campaign against narcotic drugs through radio and television programmes and in the press.
In this sphere of activities, the Administration has made a documentary film entitled "Forbidden flowers", which shows all aspects of the drug problem; measures employed against contraband and illicit traffic, the development of control techniques, illicit opium poppy cultivation and measures taken to eradicate it.
In addition, the Administration has requested the Ministry of Education to formulate, within the framework of health education, information programmes on the harmful effects of drugs in order to encourage in the individual a concern to preserve his physical and mental health and a sense of collective responsibility.
As regards religious education, the Administration has repeatedly published the views of the various religious creeds on drug prohibition. In sermons given in mosques and churches, imams and priests constantly warn their congregations against the prohibited use of these substances.
It should be noted that narcotic drugs, like any other goods, are subject to the principle of supply and demand. Many countries have been concerned mainly with reducing supply and have paid less attention to demand. The result is that the considerable quantities of narcotic drugs and crops destroyed have not seriously influenced the problem.
On the contrary, the problem has become more acute following renewed demand which producers and traffickers, in their greed for gain, have rushed to satisfy fully, inveigling weak characters, tempted by the lure of profit, into their reprehensible game.
But the time has come to give demand its proper importance. Considerable efforts must be made to study all the aspects, to determine the causes, to eradicate the basic factors leading to drug abuse and to give appropriate treatment to drug addicts.
Unfortunately, there are many obstacles in the consumer countries, particularly those countries where financial and technical resources are lacking. This is where the United Nations bodies concerned in the matter, particularly the United Nations Fund for Drug Abuse Control (UNFDAC), must intervene and the richer countries must make their contribution. Financial and technical assistance must be given where needed so as to eradicate drug abuse at national level and prevent it from infiltrating elsewhere, although it seems to defy customs barriers, political frontiers and barriers of religious belief.