By Sahar Aziz and Derek Clinger, Special to CNN
Editor's note: Sahar Aziz is president of the Egyptian American Rule of Law Association and a fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. Derek Clinger is a Law Clerk at the Egyptian American Rule of Law Association. The views expressed are their own.
Upon taking office, President Mohamed Morsy vowed to eliminate corruption in Egypt. Indeed, corruption was among the first issues he identified as posing the most serious challenge to the Egyptian economy. Yet despite his rhetoric, little has changed under his administration – so far, at least.
By the end of last year, Egypt had dropped six spots in Transparency International’s annual Corruption Perceptions Index, a measure of the perceived level of public sector corruption. Similarly, the Global Defense Sector Corruption Index ranked Egypt among the countries most susceptible to defense sector corruption.
And while, anecdotal evidence suggests that the high-level corruption that wracked Mubarak regime has declined, low-level corruption may actually have gotten worse. According to an article last October in The National, one anti-corruption expert with the U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime said: “I can tell you from my personal experience that high-level corruption stopped by about 70 percent after Mubarak resigned. Most of that was done by ministers and the second layer below them. Now, those people are afraid to do anything because they can be held accountable. But the petty corruption is the same – or worse.”
Reuters, meanwhile, reported that “hopes that [corruption] would ease remain far away as people waiting for paperwork complain that low-level graft has become even worse since the uprising because of lax law enforcement.”
In September 2012, according to the Egyptian Independent, Saeed Mohamed Abdullah, founder of the Independent Association to Fight Corruption, accused Morsy of offering unfair advantages to business figures who were also members of the Muslim Brotherhood in order to repay the 2 billion Egyptian pounds allegedly borrowed for Morsy’s presidential campaign. Abdullah also noted the appointment of Hassan Malek, a prominent and wealthy businessman and member of the Muslim Brotherhood, to head the Egyptian Business Development Association as one of many examples of corrupt cronyism. Malek was also accused, the report notes, of "extracting and exporting phosphate" without paying taxes to the state. Then-Vice President Mahmoud Mekki acknowledged the claims and announced that the public prosecutor was investigating the allegations. In October, Mekki declared that the results of the investigation would be “revealed soon,” but this is yet to happen.
But it is the problems with the country’s infrastructure that offer some of the more tangible suggestions of corruption. In November, 51 elementary school children were killed when their bus was hit by a train in Upper Egypt, while at least another three were killed in November in a train crash in Fayoum. Al-Masry Al-Youm reported that 5.5 million Egyptian pounds earmarked by the government in 2012 to renovate the railways is missing, with no evidence that the country’s railway infrastructure has been upgraded.
The Freedom and Justice Party points to Mubarak-era corruption, while the opposition National Salvation Front condemns the current government for failing to root out corruption. But the problems extend well beyond transport – the physical deterioration of residential and commercial buildings across Egypt’s cities is another consequence of pervasive corruption. Just a few weeks ago, a residential building collapsed killing two dozen people and injuring almost a dozen more. Many of the buildings in such incidents have been constructed without licenses. News reports have in a number of cases found the accidents to be the result of widespread corruption involving government officials and landlords flouting housing sector regulations. And, although Ahram Online quoted Egypt's housing minister as saying a law regulating construction sites in Egypt is under review in the Shura Council, simply passing a law is no guarantee considering past failures to enforce the rules.
In response to these problems, Morsy has announced a number of steps, including the formation of a “supreme commission to combat corruption.” But while Christoph Wilcke, Transparency International director for the Middle East and North Africa reportedly noted that “some small tentative steps” had been taken, he believed that “very little has happened on the ground…as far as putting in place systems that we know work to prevent corruption.”
Of course, it’s true that Egypt’s pervasive corruption did not start under President Morsy’s watch. But at some point he will no longer be able to blame his predecessor for Egypt’s corruption problems. From simple delays in completing paperwork to the deaths of school children and soldiers, Egyptians are demanding real reform. Egyptian civil society organizations are therefore calling on Morsy’s administration to pass comprehensive freedom of information legislation that can help stop the misuse of government funds and improve the quality of life for Egyptians.
It remains to be seen if Morsy can implement meaningful anti-corruption reforms. But, either way, he will eventually be called to task for Egypt’s worsening economic woe – a problem that cannot be solved until the country can get a handle on corruption.