The data demonstrates that the perception of corruption at a national level in MENA countries does not include the defence sector and the armed forces. The high levels of trust towards the armed forces compared to other political and judicial institutions reflects a contradiction in the perception of corruption.

A breach of trust between the armed forces and civil society

It seems that citizens in the MENA region exclude the army from their perception of corruption, perceiving it as a separate entity from the government, parliament and judicial. The perception of the armed forces as a unique institution means a trust gap between civilian institutions and military institutions in the region.

The glorification of the army, selling it as the saviour of the nation from external and internal enemies, appears to work as a strategy of manipulation. Civil-military relations in MENA should be examined by asking how the military is being presented to the public through the media.

One significant component of the GDI is the accessibility of information about the defence sector. According to the GDI, this data is kept extremely secret in all MENA countries (except Tunisia), so the media, journalists and civil society organisations find it impossible to criticise the military.

Egyptians delight in the appearance of an army helicopter in Cairo's Heliopolis district in July 2013 (photo: DW/A. Hamdy)
The military as perceived guarantor of stability and order in socially divided and politically polarised states: "The glorification of the army, selling it as the saviour of the nation from external and internal enemies, appears to work as a strategy of manipulation. Civil-military relations in MENA should be examined by asking how the military is being presented to the public through the media," writes Abdalhadi Alijla

Local media are prohibited (by law in most MENA countries) to publish any data on the defence sector as it is considered confidential, and in most cases undermines national security. However, it is possible to uncover corrupt practices within civil bodies. In most cases, such corruption scandals are used as a political tool to gain public support, such as in Lebanon.

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The army "as saviour of the Egyptian people"

In divided societies and politically polarised states (such as in Lebanon, Tunisia, or Iraq), the military adopts a corporate national identity. In these cases, the army presents itself as an entity that unites all the factions and sects. There is a concerted effort by the military to present itself as the guardian of unity that brings all sects and colours of the society together.

Such a strategy aims to present the army to the people as a model among the failing civilian institutions, protecting the stability of the country. The process of creating a corporate national identity comes either through the experience of civil war or a professional military. For example, in Egypt, the army presents itself with a corporate national identity as the saviour of the people, providing security, fighting terrorists and also providing affordable goods to civilian markets.

In conclusion, the level of trust in the armed forces is a result of long strategies that include the creation of national corporate identities, preventing and punishing access to information, while cultivating a lack of openness towards the people.

Although the armed forces enjoy a high level of trust, the figures do not mean that there is no corruption within these armies. Rather, they indicate a very deep rift between the military and the general public.

Abdalhadi Alijla

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