The “Arab Spring” was fuelled in part by popular desire to weed out corruption. But could graft in fact be on the rise in Egypt and Tunisia?
It could indeed be rising massively, according to Nicola Ehlermann-Cache, a senior policy analyst at the Paris-based think-tank, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
“Unfortunately, informal reports have been made to me – certainly in Tunisia, Egypt and Iraq – (by) people claiming that corruption is rising tremendously,” she said last week as a panelist at the International Bar Association’s (IBA) annual Anti-Corruption Conference in Paris.
Ehlermann-Cache painted a bleak picture of the state of corruption in the North Africa and the Middle East (MENA). Issues of particular concern, she said, were poorly written laws, ongoing immunity for influential officials, media restrictions, no right to access public information and weak institutions.
Tunisia’s and Egypt’s former leaders are being held to account. Tunisia’s Zein al-Abidine Ben Ali, is living in Saudi Arabia where he fled at the height of the protests. In July last year, a Tunisian court sentenced him in absentia to 16 years in jail, on charges of corruption and ordered that he pay 97 million dinars ($70.65 million) in fines.
Hosni Mubarak, meanwhile, is living in a military hospital in Egypt waiting to hear whether he has been found guilty of corruption and of ordering the killing of protesters in the uprising that swept him from power.
Can it really be so that the uprisings could have fanned yet more graft?
Riccardo Fabiani, a North Africa analyst at political risk consultancy Eurasiagroup, said it could be a matter of smaller-scale corruption rising – not larger-scale.
“Large-scale corruption (in Tunisia) has now gone, as the current authorities are not in a position to take bribes from investors because of the intense scrutiny they are under after the January 2011 revolution,” Fabiani said.
“That said, it is fair to assume that small-scale corruption, i.e. bribes taken by local policemen or bureaucrats etc., has not disappeared and has possibly increased,” he added.
“As living conditions continue to deteriorate and unemployment (continues) to go up, these people resort to corruption to support their incomes.”
Firas Abi Ali, deputy head of MENA forecasting at another consultancy Exclusive Analysis, disagreed with Ehlermann-Cache’s comments. Overall, corruption has decreased in Egypt and Tunisia, due to the destruction of the patronage networks that had been fuelled by the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt respectively, he said.
But, as Jean-Baptiste Gallopin, a Tunisia analyst at consultancy Control Risk said, it’s still early days to monitor corruption in Tunisia and Egypt after the revolutions.
“Corruption is opaque by nature, and the most reliable evidence of it lies in occasional corruption scandals or accusations that break out,” he said. “Given how fresh the new regimes are in Tunisia and Egypt, there has been little time for them to break out, and we only have anecdotal evidence.”
Measurements of corruption are notoriously difficult to make and estimations, as the above shows, can differ according to who you talk to. But if corruption really is on the increase in Egypt and Tunisia, one difference is this time Egyptians and Tunisians will be able to vote for change.