The wave of protests known as the Arab Spring led to the ouster of long-time rulers and spurred reform throughout the Arab world. Yet those developments haven't resulted in progress toward limiting political corruption, according to Transparency International, a watchdog group that compiles an annual nation-by-nation index of perceived official corruption. Indeed, since the start of the Arab Spring, many of the affected countries have actually fallen in that group's rankings.
Political reforms alone are no guarantee against corruption, says Alina Mungiu-Pippidi, a professor of democracy studies and director of the European Research Centre for AntiCorruption and State Building at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin. When new governments come into power, they often treat the state as a source of spoils that political elites can distribute to private interests. That's true even of duly elected governments. Out of 27 countries where corruption controls have weakened since 1996,10 are electoral democracies, according to data cited by Mungiu-Pippidi.
"Scholars have intensively studied the first step of democratization: gaining freedom," she says. "Yet the next step-achieving fair governance-remains under-studied and far less well understood." Aiming to fill that gap, Mungiu-Pippidi turned her attention to asking why some democracies are able to control corruption and others aren't The explanation lies in the strength or weakness of institutions that allow people to engage in collective action. …