Egypt: Too Many Regulations Breed Corruption

December 11, 2014


  • Egypt has announced a new national strategy to fight corruption.
  • In recent surveys in Egypt, half of all respondents admitted to paying a bribe.
  • Corruption has a negative impact on development, creating obstacles to growth and causing particular harm to the poorest.

This week—the week of International Anti-Corruption Day—Egypt unveiled a new and official strategy to fight corruption. As Egyptians see it, civil servants and senior government officials have been largely to blame for the amount of corruption in the country. And many Egyptian citizens acquiesced, greasing the palms of government officials—about half of those surveyed two years ago admitted to having paid a bribe for a permit or to process a document.  

In 2014, the WJP’s Rule of Law Index of 2014 indicated a shift in public concern, however, from public corruption to the lack of constraints on government powers.

So how did Egypt get there? The World Justice Project (WJP)—which conducts many of the country corruption surveys that collect such data—says that for years, people in power in Egypt created patronage networks in the civil service, judiciary, army, police and parts of the private sector that fed on public contracts. They and their contacts benefited from ‘rent-seeking’ (earning income free of competition).  The institutional environment they relied on was based on little—if any—access to information; when it came to even minor bureaucratic decisions, ‘discretion’ (individual judgment) prevailed.

" The problem in Egypt, according to WJP data, was not so much that the country lacked the regulations needed to crack down on corruption but that it failed to enforce them. "

The problem in Egypt, according to WJP data, was not so much that the country lacked the regulations needed to crack down on corruption but that it failed to enforce them. Civil servants were rarely punished. Data (collected in 2012) indicated that nothing happened to civil servants caught accepting a bribe for a license in 19 per cent of such cases; in another 41 per cent, investigations would be opened but not concluded. 

Research by Egyptian institutes and the World Bank in 2009 again illustrated the public’s complicity: the vast majority of Egyptians believed that paying a bribe—or even a tip for services rendered—virtually guaranteed the delivery of a public service or resolved a problem they had with the government, particularly in urban areas. 

From an economic development perspective, though, corruption halts growth. Good governance and anti-corruption are key to the World Bank’s goals of reducing the amount of poverty in the world, says Edouard Al-Dahdah, who is based in Cairo for the Bank as its Senior Public Sector Specialist. The Bank, he says, “focuses on internal organizational integrity, minimizing corruption on World Bank-funded projects, and assisting countries in improving governance and controlling corruption.” 

In this context, the huge size of the Egyptian civil service presents a lasting problem—about 7.2 million people now work for it. Too many government rules create too much wiggle room for ‘discretion’: the WJP says Egyptian citizens and businesses find it difficult to access public services without paying bribes. Sadly, this is especially true of the social services the poor need more than anyone else, like food ration cards, and the law-enforcement services essential to justice, such as the courts and police.  

Egypt’s recently announced national strategy will be run by the National Coordination Committee for Combating Corruption. The committee is composed of members drawn from a range of government agencies, and will be chaired by the Prime Minister.