Four years ago, extreme government corruption was one of the driving forces that pushed Egyptians to embark on a revolution.
The World Economic Forum estimated the universal cost of corruption in 2013 to be US$2.6 trillion, with at least $1 trillion paid in bribes. Corruption in Egypt is estimated to be at least LE50 billion annually, making it a major obstacle for development.
Any functioning government is administered by a mixture of bureaucrats and the regime. The bureaucrats are technical officials at the middle and bottom of the hierarchy, who hold life-long positions irrespective of changes in government. The regime, on the other hand, is represented by high-level officials appointed by the supposedly elected administration, meaning they will be replaced once the ruling regime changes. Their places are only guaranteed by a stable regime.
This differentiation paves the way for the nuances between bureaucratic and political corruption. Political corruption, or “grand corruption,” refers to an action that does not happen on a daily basis, involves senior officials and politicians, and, in most cases, comes with a high monetary value. Bureaucratic corruption, on the other hand, is often referred to as petty corruption, and is essentially the opposite in that it happens daily, implicates a spectrum of officials and typically involves less money.
Corruption in all its forms was one of the motives for the January 25 revolution, but the question is, which form had more influence on the revolt? Citizens deal with corrupt bureaucrats on a daily basis through different state institutions, but the average citizen barely deals with corrupt seniority. If we guess how many times an average citizen is obliged to pay a bribe to make sure that she or he receives a certain service or to expedite a certain transaction, versus how many times an average citizen witnesses or plays part in a grand corruption scheme, then clearly bureaucratic corruption seems to have a greater impact on the average Egyptian.
On the other hand, a citizen continually reads about grand corruption incidents in the news, with each incident involving millions of pounds, while this individual can barely meet daily financial commitments. We cannot overlook the significant impact that grand corruption has had on citizens in the long term, and they certainly incite frustration with the government. For example, the people were outraged when former Housing Minister Mohamed Ibrahim Suleiman was tried for receiving an LE20 million bribe while he was in power, or when the Central Auditing Authority reported that there were more than LE1.2 trillion in private funds — a stash of funds outside the official state budget. Examples such as these create a feeling of discontent, which eventually transforms into an urgency for change. In this case, grand corruption could have a greater influence on the average citizen.
Both forms thus have a direct influence that compelled citizens to revolt for change — one in the short term, and one in the long term.
The January 25 revolution should have tackled both types of corruption, along with the rest of the uprising’s demands. Unfortunately, in the uprising’s first wave the masses only focused on the regime, confronting political corruption and leaving other forms untouched. It is understandable that at the time, many were convinced that change would come across the board once the regime was replaced. Others maintained that we had to pick our battles, as it was impossible to target all problems at once. Time has proved that this approach was wrong — we should have tackled both forms of corruption when the government was in a state that allowed it to accept change.
After January 25, disgraced regime figures were penalized for their actions, while the bureaucrats managed to stay in place and remained relatively untouched. But now, we see that even the leaders of Mubarak’s regime have not been convicted of any charges, as if corruption had never existed. This leaves us with some questions regarding the possible relationship between the bureaucrats who stayed in power and the failure to convict Mubarak-era figures.
Unfortunately, the effect of the January revolution was only temporary. During and after the revolution, these bureaucrats managed to keep a low profile by toning down their corrupt practices, while the citizens — who had a greater sense of belonging and responsibility — were less tolerant of corrupt actions and more inclined to report corrupt officials. But this effect decreased as time passed, leading to a current state that does not really differ from Mubarak’s era. The bureaucrats have returned to their past ways with as much impunity as before.
So, now that both types of corruption are again on the rise, could there be another revolution?
I personally do not think so. I believe that many citizens are satisfied with the government’s so-called “war on terrorism,” and would rather not hold try to hold the state accountable for its other actions again. Now that it has public support, the state is in a position to pitch in all its resources to effect change, but does the current regime really want to fight corruption — especially bureaucratic corruption? It seems to me that this will largely depend on shifting power dynamics between the regime and the bureaucrats.
Even if the regime wants to fight bureaucratic corruption, issuing laws and developing anti-corruption policies is one thing, but implementation is another, since the bureaucrats will ultimately execute these laws and policies.
Even if the regime wants to fight bureaucratic corruption, how will the regime force or encourage the bureaucrats to implement these laws and policies? This is the million-dollar question that would change the core of Egypt’s six-million strong bureaucracy.