February 8th, 2013
10:48 AM ET

Egypt's corruption woes

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.”

More from CNN: What's driving Egypt's unrest?

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.

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Topics: Egypt

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soundoff (7 Responses)
  1. Joseph McCarthy

    Here is yet again more evidence that Egypt is ripe for Communism. To clean up corruption, a bourgeois democracy simply won't work as money finds it's way into politics as usual.

    February 8, 2013 at 11:56 am |
  2. bocknobby

    Sorry but I do not buy in to the underlying assumption that Sahar Aziz and Derek Clinger seem to embrace . . . that significant change has taken place.

    I am not suggesting events over the past couple of years in Egypt have been stage-managed or are in any way insignificant; people have been motivated, too many people have died, too much property has been destroyed, the damage to Egypt's economy has been devastating.

    However, I remain convinced that much of the actual change that has taken place - the elections, for example - are more window dressing than anything of substance and that the military that essentially took control of the country with the overthrow of King Farouk has been and remains in control of the country. I see no evidence to the contrary.

    Yes, the political leadership changes but until there is substantive change Egypt will remain a state managed by relatively nameless, faceless individuals in the shadows.

    February 8, 2013 at 12:16 pm |
  3. olivetrue

    Great analysis of the situation in Egypt. The current administration and protests are extremely concerning. Hopefully Morsy will be held to account for the lack of transparency and continued corruption.

    February 8, 2013 at 12:41 pm |
  4. donalds

    US DoD study on random polygraphs for personnel. http://t.co/Tr7uafTd

    "the polygraph is the single most effective tool for finding information people were trying to hide." – DoD, NSA

    February 10, 2013 at 3:33 pm |
  5. j. von hettlingen

    It comes as no surprise that low-level graft hasn't declined, as petty criminals within the authorities are less exposed to media scrutiny than big shots within the government. The economic woes see crime surging all over the country. Low-level officials capitalise on the situation by not prosecuting, if they get a decent compensation.

    February 11, 2013 at 7:00 am |

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