The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Fighting corruption, recent history

Freedom House, a US lobbying group/think tank, offers an assessment of accountability, civil liberties, rule of law and corruption in Egypt as part of their 'Countries at the Crossroads' report. The report contains a summary of some of the developments in the four areas until September 2004.

For me, the report raised two questions. Discussing recent anti-corruption efforts, it points out that

The campaign’s
near-total focus on senior officials in President Mubarak’s NDP has been
concurrent with the political rise of his son, leading to speculation that
the crackdown is simply clearing a path for an increasing public role for

Egypt has a number of agencies that could, if properly empowered
by the president, promote transparency and fight corruption. A central
auditing agency, working out of the prime minister’s office, is engaged
in privatization of government assets and strives for financial transparency.
42 The Administrative Control Authority is Egypt’s primary
anticorruption watchdog,43 although it does not have jurisdiction to
investigate accusations of corruption against certain categories of state
employees. All of these agencies are directly tied to the executive branch
and thus the presidency; therefore, reform (with public accountability
and transparency as part of that overall agenda) is only possible if the
president wants it.

Given the rumoured shake-out in the state-owned media, should we assume that the patronage networks at al-Ahram and al-Gomhouriyya will simply be replaced by new patronage networks headed by cronies loyal to the new generation of rulers rather than to the septuagenarian leadership? Or have the rules of the media in the Arab world changed so much - as Brian Whittaker suggested in his Guardian column a few days ago - that state media empires of the kind so useful to Safwat Sherif and his clients are a thing of the past?

A second question comes from the report's mention of a period of parliamentary diversity in Egypt after the 1987 elections, when independent and opposition MPs held 30% of the seats in parliament (the NDP has since taken firm control of parliament). Was this parliamentary diversity reflected in the broader political environment? Was the executive ever questioned or tested by parliament in this period? And how and why did Mubarak allow this diversity to come about? I'd be grateful if anyone can shed light on this.