Corruption in the Arab world

Why are most Arabs so prepared to trust the military?

Why do so many people in Arab countries trust the armed forces, even though most armies in the region are highly corrupt? Abdalhadi Alijla has the answers

Do people in the Arab region tend to trust transparent and corruption-free institutions more than others? That is what you would expect, but the opposite appears to be the case.

According to the Arab Barometer from 2018-2019, 49.4% of people in Algeria, Iraq, Palestine, Jordan, Tunisia, Morocco, Kuwait, Sudan, Lebanon, Egypt and Yemen put a huge amount of trust in their armed forces, while 26% put considerable trust in their armed forces. In the same survey, 47.3% of respondents who said that they had a high level of trust in the armed forces also replied by saying that corruption at a national level was very high in their countries, while 52.2% of them believed levels of corruption to be average.

In Egypt, for instance, 57% of Egyptians polled in 2018 said that they put great trust in the army, while 27.3% put considerable trust in their armed forces. Strikingly, 48% of respondents who said that they had a high level of trust in the army believed that corruption in the country was extreme. The majority of those surveyed tended to believe that there is corruption to a large extent at a national level (formal institutions): 74% of Iraqis, 59% of Lebanese, 77% of Libyans, 42% of Moroccans, 46% of Sudanese, 74% of Tunisians and 33% of Yemenis.

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High risk of corruption in MENA countries

Based on data from the Government Defence Integrity Index (GDI), which measures five corruption risk factors: political, personal, operational, financial and procurement, the vast majority of MENA countries at a high risk of corruption. GDI categorises corruption risks from A to F, where F is the highest risk of corruption, and A is the lowest. Most MENA countries are at critical or very high risk of corruption.

Arab barometer infographic from 2018-2019 shows public approval ratings for the armed forces throughout the Arab world (source: arabbarometer.org/opendemocracy.net)
High approval for the military despite despite rampant corruption: "Algeria, Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are at critical risk of corruption in their defence sector, while Kuwait, Lebanon, Palestine, and UAE are at a high risk of corruption in the same sector. Are citizens of these countries aware of the corruption within the defence sector, or do they prefer to turn a blind eye, since the army remains the most powerful institution in the country?" asks Abdalhadi Alijla

Algeria, Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are at critical risk of corruption in their defence sector, while Kuwait, Lebanon, Palestine, and UAE are at a high risk of corruption in the same sector.

Compared to the data from the Arab Barometer, we find that the countries at critical risk of corruption put high levels of trust in the army. For instance, in Tunisia, which is the only MENA country which scored a “D”, 69% trust the armed forces, although 74% of them believe that corruption is rife in the country. Tunisia’s risk of corruption level would appear to indicate a slight improvement within the defence sector.

A need for security? Heroism? Militarism?

This contradictory attitude to corrupt institutions that have not only been abusing their power and exploiting the economy, but also evade scrutiny and oversight under the pretext of confidentiality and national security raises the question as to why people tend to trust what they perceive to be corrupt. Do they prioritise security? Heroism? Militarism?

Are citizens of these countries aware of the corruption within the defence sector, or do they prefer to turn a blind eye, since the army remains the most powerful institution in the country? In fact, many people do know about the corruption in the military, but do not speak out because they fear extreme punishment. By extension, corruption cases are not covered by the media, meaning the general public remains ignorant of their existence.

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