Morsi must lead on graft and corruption

Mohamed Nosseir , Sunday 30 Sep 2012

Amid illiteracy and poverty, even with revolution, Egypt will never change from the bottom up. Top-down change is what the country needs

After being ruled for centuries by various autocratic regimes, Egypt is now headed by a new president who was elected in a relatively free and fair election. But does this mean that Egypt is changing? It definitely does not.

Egypt is a nation that has a long tradition and a deep-rooted system, both of which require radical changes if the country is to progress and prosper. The current fairly elected president, along with his support organisation (the Muslim Brotherhood), are not radical enough to apply the required changes, nor can they afford to be radical at all.

Even if the president were willing to apply changes, he would only be able to implement his agenda if he were stronger than Egypt’s deep-rooted bureaucracy. That is clearly not the case.

Egyptians, in essence, want a president that runs an efficient government, which entails providing job opportunities and improving the economy, among a long list of other demands. It also entails applying justice (something that has been missing in Egypt for a long time).

However, as long as Egypt continues to function through the two fundamental pillars of "connections and corruption" (the 2C’s), no president will ever be able to rule efficiently. These 2C’s are the main drivers of the Egyptian economy; they represent key means of income for Egyptian government employees, in addition to being a cultural habit that Egyptians have gotten use to.

Getting rid of these two "secret-but-known" pillars requires a leader who is able to shake the country by applying the required changes. To do so, this leader must be stronger than the Egyptian static state and its long tradition and established systems.

Mubarak should receive credit for inventing the 2C’s in Egypt — or at least for their widespread expansion during his era. Nevertheless, he was fully in control of them; he managed to found a strong state in which each member of his regime understood the role he or she played in the overall system. Nobody dared to work against this established system.

President Mohamed Morsi temporarily holds both executive and legislative powers — one he obtained through election, and the other he inherited from the military by way of the ambiguous declaration that acted on behalf of the constitution. These powers give President Morsi sufficient autonomy to implement changes and deliver his "100 days promises."

However, none of these promises has been achieved, and no progress, however tiny, has been made towards these stated goals. Regardless of his power, President Morsi is neither ready nor willing to move Egypt forward.

After almost 17 months of military rule, millions of Egyptians had been waiting to elect a new president so that justice could be fully implemented regarding citizens who lost their lives in various events during and after the revolution, including the assassination of 73 football fans during a game held in Port Said. Egyptians presumed that a president who comes from the Muslim Brotherhood (an organisation that used to be regularly harassed and imprisoned by the Mubarak regime using Emergency Laws) would fully understand the meaning of justice.

To date, the president has done nothing in this direction. He appears to be following in the footsteps of his predecessors (Mubarak and the military), with the exception of prosecuting Mubarak and his close allies. This represents a positive step towards the establishment of a Muslim Brotherhood state, not a state based on true justice and the rule of law.

Egypt is a country that certainly does not rely on, or even understands, the word "merit." Egyptians function according to whom they know and trust, rather than according to who is skilled and qualified for any given job.

Both Mubarak and Morsi have complained that there are no sufficiently qualified calibers to assign to leading government positions. In my opinion, this is not true. The deficient system and laws that both rulers apply do nothing to help the emergence of qualified persons, and they discourage members of the private sector from joining the ranks of this corrupted taboo of government.

More than a decade ago, Mubarak’s ruling party, the National Democratic Party (NDP), financed its first large party convention by organising an event that was sponsored by a number of businessmen and inaugurated by Mubarak. Each businessman paid LE1 million to receive a short visit from Mubarak, and the convention was thus fully financed in a tiny and neat event.

Doing business with various government organisations involves government employees who tend to request bribes to perform services, while senior government officials are involved in the bigger corruption transactions.

I believe that Morsi will not encourage corruption. However, I doubt that he will forge strict laws to fight and reduce corruption. Nevertheless, favouring his former Brotherhood colleagues over the remaining Egyptian population is a move that enhances the "connection element" mentioned above.

Recently, when President Morsi visited China accompanied by a number of business people, he assigned a new businessmen’s association, founded by a leading figure of the Muslim Brotherhood, to liaise between him and business people, thus acting as a kind of gatekeeper. This is one example of how the "connection element" (which could easily be followed by the corruption element) is re-emerging.

For Egypt to progress and prosper, the country is in need of a governance philosophy clearly based on fighting corruption and applying justice. The encouragement of merit and fair-competition based on performance is a fundamental issue that President Morsi must consider.

The election of governors instead of their appointment by the president is a step towards improving government efficiency that has always been one of the demands of all political forces. In addition, the Muslim Brotherhood must lead by example by legally registering its organisation, to demonstrate that no one is above the law.   

Even with a revolution, Egypt will never be able to change from the bottom up. A nation that has millions of illiterate people, accompanied with poverty, lack of established systems and a poor application of the rule of law, will never be able to come up with a better and more equitable system.

The country is in need of a top-down approach in which the president acknowledges the problem and communicates with Egyptians, letting them know that he will work together with everyone else to address this issue.

Replacing people in key positions by another group of people while maintaining the system unchanged will never lead to change. On the contrary, the deficient system will negatively affect the new appointees. Egypt does not only need a democratically elected president; it also, and more importantly, needs a president with a fresh mindset who is eager to change the country.

The writer is member of the political bureau of the Free Egyptians Party.

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