Corruption and the Arab Spring

Article excerpt

Steven A. Cook

Senior Fellow

Council on Foreign Relations

An Interview with Lorenzo Moretti and David Rudin

Providence, RI, 19 March 2012

Steven A. Cook is the Hasib J. Sabbagh Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. He is an expert on Arab and Turkish politics as well as United States-Middle East policy. Cook is the author of The Struggle for Egypt: From Nasser to Tahrir Square (Oxford University Press, 2011) and Ruling But Not Governing: The Military and Political Development in Egypt, Algeria, and Turkey (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007).

Brown Journal of World Affairs: With events such as Indian activist Anna Hazare's anti-corruption hunger strike, former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak's corruption trial, and the worldwide Occupy movement, political corruption has emerged as one of the most discussed topics in international relations. As a leading expert on the Middle East, what role do you think political corruption has played in sparking the Arab Spring, and what role will anti-corruption reform play in the political development of the region?

Steven Cook: I certainly do not believe that the uprising in Egypt itself was sparked by corruption. The uprising was the result of the way in which Mubarak ruled Egypt, the way in which coercion and force were used as a means of political control, and the demands of the people who rose up and declared that they would no longer be afraid of being manipulated by this regime. The reasons for the uprising were in part related to corruption, but mostly what people were asking for was a more democratic system, a system where people can process their grievances through political institutions. Certainly, there was a perception-and I think quite rightly-that corruption in the late-Mubarak period had run rampant and that people needed to be held accountable for what many Egyptians saw as absconding with national resources. But as kind of a causal argument, I would not go so far as to suggest that that is the case. Certainly, anti-corruption and new measures in order to create more transparent political processes in economic policy making and the contracting and delivering of services in Egypt are part of the conversation as the Egyptian transition is under way-something that is going to be under way for quite some time. I think that clearly with the coming writing of the new constitution and new laws there will be particular attention paid to the issue of corruption, given the fact that the revolutionary narrative has been that the late-Mubarak period, the Mubarak family itself, and the people around them who had become political power brokers were corrupt.

Journal: What effect will constitutional changes in Egypt have on corruption and increasing the transparency of the political process?

Cook: It depends on what the constitution says. We don't know. We will know in a few days who will have the prerogatives to choose the members of the committee of 100 to write the constitution, and then those people will have to sit down and get to work over the course of six months to produce a new constitution. My suspicion is that, given the revolutionary narrative of the late-Mubarak period, there is going to be-perhaps not in the constitution but in implementing legislation-particular attention paid to anti-corruption measures. There will probably be some aspects of the constitution that call for a more transparent and open government. As important as the constitution is-and I think it is extraordinarily important-if you look at the present Egyptian constitution, it makes way for a transparent government and provides opportunity for the people's assembly to hold government officials accountable. However, these kind of provisions were superseded by emergency laws and by implementing legislation that undermined these kinds of good provisions, the kind of provisions that we think about in liberal democratic constitutions. …

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