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25/12/2007

Book: Against Corruption

Book: Against Corruption

 

Arab Archives Institute publishes book on role of Arab civil society in fighting corruption.

 

 

The Adviser Mag –AMMAN –

 

 

Arab civil society has succeeded in promoting the transparency agenda despite legal impediments and smearing attacks, according to a book recently published by the Arab Archives Institute (AAI) in Jordan .

 

The book, entitled “Against Corruption - The role of Arab Civil Society in Fighting Corruption”, analyses the activities carried out by civil society organizations (CSOs) in the Arab world with focus on Jordan, Bahrain and Morocco as representative countries of the Mashreq, Gulf and Maghreb regions.

 

In the case of Jordan , the book analyses the role of CSOs in fighting corruption and their relationship with the government and the authorities in the kingdom.

 

While the Jordanian government exposed an estimated two-billion-US dollar corruption cases (since the democratic process was reintroduced in Jordan in 1989 until 2007) civil society had magnificently succeeded in pushing for an anti-corruption legislation that saw the light less than a decade after initiating campaigning efforts.

 

The book also shows how Arab civil society has succeeded in a short span of time to advance the issue of fighting corruption and placing it on the national, Arab and international agendas. Were it not for the NGOs, the number of corrupt people might have been double the number that is already there.

 

Change is happening. The ambitious plans of some of the region’s new leaders, and the anti-corruption mantle they have assumed on coming to power indicated that the language of transparency had become part of the trappings of legitimacy. From Syria to Morocco , the pledge to fight corruption was a key part of a wider reformist shift in political rhetoric. But though leaders have in some cases taken steps to back their rhetoric with action, their commitment proved to be faltering barely a few years later.

 

As Arab officials compete in international meetings and conferences to improve their image and show proof of their commitment to fight corruption, they are as quick to pull the carpet from underneath independent activists and civil society organizations.

 

Until 2006, activists in Tunisia, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Qatar or the United Arab Emirates were not allowed to and could not establish anti-corruption societies.

 

Except for Lebanon , all Arab countries control, with the blessings of the law, who can and who can’t establish an association, who is eligible and who is not eligible to join. And except for Lebanon and Palestine , all Arab governments can dissolve an association, some without justification.

 

Most Arab laws also prohibit civil society organizations from receiving local or foreign funds unless approved by the executive authority. The government has the right in many laws to inspect the society’s records and dissolve the society or its board of directors or suspend its activities.

 

Gulf countries like Kuwait and Bahrain are now witnessing the emergence of independent societies on transparency, the United Arab Emirates is sensing its way towards a parliamentary life and Saudi Arabia embarked on timid reforms. These preliminary moves are a cause for optimism for the Gulf States- historically known for being closed societies. However, Gulf States remain hesitant to embrace reforms.

 

Despite their openness on the world, the high levels of education, the global communication changes and their impact on the free flow of information, Gulf governments seem to be especially hesitant when it comes to reforms and development of civil society institutions. Without remorse, authorities systematically ban activities, harass activists and block their websites at whim.

 

And while corruption is no longer a taboo subject even in the Gulf, countries still talk about it as if it exists in Mars. When media addresses corruption, the reports seem theoretical, simple and mostly tackle the issue when it occurs outside the country’s borders.

 

Bahrain , despite its recurrent reversals on democratic transformation, stands out in the Gulf region as the country with serious drive towards institutionalized democracy. From the closed societies of Saudi Arabia and Oman, to Kuwait where democracy seems to exclude half of the society – women, and where Qatar’s only achievement is Al Jazeera channel that targets everybody else’s democracy but its own, and UAE where changes seem to focus on investment and economy without any political transformation, Bahrain stands out in the sense that its promises were translated into legal and practical actions. It however needs encouragement.

 

Morocco prides itself as being the home for the first society in the Arab world specialized in fighting corruption. Morocco was also the home for the only Arab activist to receive the award of Transparency International for Integrity. On September 30, 2000, Mustapha Adib (32 at the time), Moroccan Air Force captain, received the award for his courage in denouncing corruption in the military and bringing his corrupt superiors to the attention of the media. The act cost him a five-year prison sentence by the Military Court of Rabat for ‘breaching discipline’ and ‘slandering the army.

 

Civil society in Morocco is certainly more active than many of its Arab counterparts. It is also more vivacious. However its enthousiasm is not met with the same fervor from the government.

 

If fighting corruption were to make headways, governments in the Arab countries are urged to place more importance on the role of civil society and encourage activists to participate in the process.

 

The book was the effort of AAI and Jordanian Transparency Forum (JTF), with the support and funding of the Federal German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) through the German Technical Cooperation's (GTZ) special project: Support for Developing and Transition Countries in Implementing the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC). Information related to the book could be found in Arabic and English on AAI website www.alarcheef.com

 

http://www.middle-east-online.com/

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