The Arab world witnessed unprecedented changes with the toppling of dictators in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya last year. The Arab Spring served to transform the anti-corruption issue from the responsibility of a few, to the preoccupation of many.
In most countries in the Middle East and North Africa region, trust in government remains low, with many uncertain about their stake in society, hence the concentration of the region in the lower portion of this year’s Corruption Perceptions Index – specifically conflict ridden countries such as Iraq, Libya and Syria.
However, the challenge that remains, almost two years after the Arab Spring, is that of integrating anti-corruption work into all aspects of governmental institutions and society, with the aim of creating a new culture of transparency which in time would lead to the desired change.
Even where there are genuine attempts by governments to set up transparency initiatives, for example by creating a national anti-corruption agency or similar, the role of these bodies remains poorly understood by the general public. Constitutional drafts in Egypt and Tunisia for example remain highly contentious in articles that address freedom of speech.
Egypt is perhaps the most pertinent example where reform efforts are hindered by an old guard still bent on protecting their interests that are present in the political picture. Massive protests are still continuing against the newly elected president Mohamed Morsi – with his latest expansion of presidential powers and slow-moving efforts to recover stolen assets from the former regime back to the Egyptian people. This is reflected in Egypt’s significant drop on the latest Corruption Perceptions Index.
Several Gulf states’ in this year’s index such as Oman, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia also dropped to be squarely within the bottom half of the ranking. For Qatar, even though it has consistently rated highly over the past few years, there are many questions over a draft media law which penalises criticism of the state.
However, countries such as Yemen are slowly moving in the right direction becoming the second Arab country after Jordan to issue freedom of information.
With the new governance landscape, the need for reform and engagement of governments to respond to the recommendations of civil society is more pressing than ever. There is a need to take the anti-corruption agenda into consideration more seriously in order to address societies’ demands effectively.