By Manuel Pirino, Programme Coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa region for Transparency International
This week Transparency International launched a report about the effectiveness of Egypt’s laws and institutions in fighting corruption. Like 151 other countries, Egypt has ratified the UN Convention against Corruption. This document examined the legal framework that was in place in Egypt before the 25th January revolution and its effectiveness in fighting corruption and offers key recommendations on how to strengthen Egypt’s ability to fight corruption.
The debate at our event identified the pressing issue: Egypt’s legislative framework is a complex and highly articulate one; if anything, it has too many laws. The question is how are they used?
What Egypt seems to need the most is to match popular will with political will: the will to use the laws that already exist to enforce anticorruption practices and protect the interests of the people.
The report comes at a sensitive moment. Demonstrations in Tahrir Square yesterday reflected the popular sentiment that justice is not the main priority of the interim government, neither for the families of the martyrs, nor for those responsible for the corruption of the former regime. The growing frustration can only have been increased by the violent response that the demonstrators received; tear gas and rubber bullets were used to disperse the protestors in the square.
As the report’s author, judge Ashraf Ali el Baroudi, stressed in his presentation, Egypt woke up from a thirty year long slumber, during which mechanisms to curb corruption existed but lay dormant. The hope is that it will not take another revolution to put to good use what tools already exist, while new and more effective ones are developed.
The optimism and the determination to achieve change has not faded in Egyptian society, and these were very evident in the discussion of the report that followed its presentation. The mood of the event was extremely lively, and filled with insightful comments and questions. Four key areas of work dominated it:
- access to information,
- protection of corruption witnesses,
- asset recovery,
- and a thorough reform of enforcement mechanisms of anticorruption policies.
The people of Egypt are hungry for information, and want to have channels to inquire, question and demand transparency from the institutions that run the country.
Whistleblowers need new laws that guarantee the safety of their identity and livelihoods. The rebuilding of a truly democratic state will be a catalyst in recovering the lost assets, including the intellectual capital that fled Egypt in search of a freer space for expression.
Even though Egypt was among the founders of the African Union, the last thirty years dealt a heavy blow to its capacity to be a political protagonist in the region in terms of democracy, good governance and accountability. So, one of the most important next steps to take will be to re-engage the international community, making full use of covenants such as the UNCAC and developing effective internal mechanisms for the recovery of assets and sustainable reform efforts.
The debate continued well beyond the time that had been originally been planned, a clear signal that all segments of the Egyptian society, represented at the event by NGOs, think-tanks, legal experts and government agencies, crave for an open discussion space, and are enthusiastic about all the reform and engagement opportunities that lie ahead.