Once again, three of the bottom 10 countries in this year’s index are from the MENA region – Iraq, Libya and Sudan. The ongoing devastating conflicts in these and other countries, such as Syria and Yemen, inevitably mean that any efforts to strengthen institutions and the state have taken a back seat. Yet security will only succeed long-term if governments make a genuine break with cronyism and build trust with citizens. This will require a huge change in political will.
The rise of ISIS and the ensuing fight against terrorism have been used by many governments as an excuse to crack down on civil liberties and civil society.
Kuwait, Jordan and Saudi Arabia all improved slightly on last year’s performance. For Saudi Arabia it’s the third year in a row where we’ve seen this kind of upward movement. Falling oil prices and a costly military intervention in Yemen have only strengthened the country’s austerity resolve, and there’s political recognition that solid structures and a clean business environment are needed to attract foreign investment. There’s also been some opening up with the increased participation of women in political life. The obvious and glaring issue remains the surge in executions in recent years as part of a wider crackdown on civil society and internal dissent.
Most countries have maintained the same poor score, and some (Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Syria and Tunisia) have deteriorated slightly. Political corruption in particular remains a huge challenge. The rise of ISIS and the ensuing fight against terrorism have been used by many governments as an excuse to crack down on civil liberties and civil society. Far from helping, such an approach means that entrenched corrupt networks go unchallenged, often serving as yet further financial fodder for terrorism.
Security will only succeed long-term if governments make a genuine break with cronyism and build trust with citizens. This will require a huge change in political will.
What needs to happen
As many states feel confronted by existential threats, it is more important than ever to make combating corruption a top priority. Reduced civil liberties cannot be a casualty in any war against terrorism. As corruption is included in the new Sustainable Development Goals, enlightened decision-makers are starting to realise that development and anti-corruption must be interlinked. But citizens urgently need their governments to move beyond conceptualisation to actually taking long-term action. And civil society must have the space to be a serious partner in the fight against corruption. Governments have demonstrated that they cannot do this alone.