Monday, August 02, 2004

Living with Corruption

K-Man noted that as a foreigner in Egypt I might not have noticed the corruption among public officials, but I beg to differ. Maybe because my late husband was in business, or because most of my friends are either Egyptian or very long term residents, but I've seen truckloads of corruption in Egypt. Part of the problem lies in the utterly pitiful pay scale in public service. Back in the days of Nasser, when businesses all over Egypt were being nationalised, a job was promised to every university graduate, while at the same time, the universities were essentially free of charge. No country can afford to pay the wages of virtually every citizen without making these salaries miniscule.

So when I moved to Egypt in '88, there were Egyptian government employees everywhere, all making a couple of hundred pounds a month...which is quite insufficient for a family. Of course they took bribes to get their work done. I don't approve of it but I do understand it. But there is corruption in every society in most of the upper tiers, since that is the level at which people have the power to sell favours. Unfortunately necessity (that old mother of invention) promoted corruption at the lower levels where the employees were paid so little that they had to find other ways of supplementing their income, It's not found so much where a salary is sufficient to live on.

9 comments:

Nosferatum said...

I understand your point of view, but even in USA there are corruption in lower levels also, police officers for exemple, some of them are corrupt. Is that because of lower salaries, our is a case of culture. A police office gains twice a european, and althoug exists corruption in european police, is in lower lever than in USA.
I believe corruption is a cultural question although i also believe in your point of view also. But they goes side by side.

Chester Ringling - "Purveyor of Fine Cats" said...

True, there is corruption everywhere, including the States. I think the main difference, however, is that in the States, if the corruption is exposed, it can be fought against by the public, where it is much harder to do that in other countries.

PeaceOnEarth said...

I found my way to your blog through the reuters article, and it made my day. I'm originally from Alexandria, but lived my life between Kuwait, Canada and the US. Living abroad have opened my eyes to a lot of facts about this world. The most important thing is how many people are blinded, some by religion, some by ethnicity, some by color, that they fail to see the rest of the world as equal human beings. And how much difference would it be if they can see the world through eyes like yours.

I definitely agree with your analysis about corruption in Egypt, and how it became widely spread because of the low-paying government jobs. While corruption is every where, poverty put more pressure on people to fall for it. In other countries where poverty is not as common, I believe greed becomes the main motive (Do I hear "Enron"?!).

I hope you continue your wonderful postings,
Best Regards

Mohembo said...

I have also lived and worked in Egypt (Cairo, Ismailia and Tanta). I do not disagree with your analysis, but I will say that in my 5-6 years working closely with professional staff in a Government department, and living an ordinary life, I have never been requested to pay a bribe, never had to try to bribe to achieve or get some service and have no memory of every being in the company of somehow who used these corrupt measures. I believe those people who are prepared to be corrupt will find others who will collaborate as the "partner" in corruption. In other countries where I HAVE faced bribery, I have always been successful in thwarting it. That is not to deny that that I have suffered some inconvenience as a result, but if one wants a noncorrupt society, corruption of this straightforward type, must be denied even at the price of personal inconvenience. Corruption of course has many faces, and bribery is only one. What is considered acceptable and inacceptable has also changed, even over short periods of time. When I was young, it was considered highly inappropriate to take a company pencil or pen home, and definitely not accepted to then pass it on to someone else. Now my employer encourages me to do it - as company advertising! Is inviting a potential customer to dinner corruption, or good business practice? Is building up "social credit" corruption or an early form of social insurance? Is chargin the tourist 10 times the cost of a cheap souvenir corruption (excessive profiteering based on greed) or savvy entrepreneurship? So the issue is complex, and ultimately dependent on social attitudes towards right and wrong.

CaroleT said...

I just started to Blog and found you. I am moving to Egypt. I have been married to an Egyptian since '86. Have been there many times. There are certain words that that are endemic to the Egyptian culture. Spelling not withstanding, they are "Bokhara" (tomorrow, manana) "En Sha Allah" (if God Wills) and "malesh" (bad stuff, alas!, etc) One word that should be added to that list is "Baksheesh" (alms, tip, bribery, handout). I have had first hand experience with all of this. The only way you can get something done post haste is with a little baksheesh. Sometimes that doesn't even work. If you are well connected and have friends in the right places that can help but not always. As long as there is no hurry there is no problem. Thank God, my husband is familiar with the ins and outs and seems to be able to get things done quickly in spite of these obstacles.

Acejee said...

Its not just Egypt but everywhere corruption is a major issue. Not just cultural, economical but environmental too. The society we live in throws a lot of challenges and in addition one see Materialistic objects even though not required being advertised as symbol of well-being and defines a persons status. When these views come into being then to get what the other fellow has individuals indulge in bribes. Then it becomes a habit. Still it feels good to see people look at Bribes as a taboo. I feel when the giving stops and may be one says to one self "I will do without this", I am sure the same can be controlled. To stop I wish it would.

Shucky 8-) + said...

Funny...I left the States when I was 18, to move to Canada and avoid becoming a combat nurse. And I've had friends who left Egypt to come here for a better life. I know things are much better in the States these days, but I hadn't realized they had gotten so much better in Egypt!

Omar said...

the size of your income is not relative to corruption, lot of top goverment official are corrupted, it only varies from rank to rank its a matter of eithics.

m.afarrag said...

Corruption in Egypt is systematic and has become an organizational crime based on an intuitional official structure , it is not only a charge to described the regime , but an industry sponsored by it to stain by certain circles and chambers specifically the legislative authority represented by the members of Parliament and as well as the control agencies, leading members of the judiciary themselves to ensure that everyone is among the corruption system to disseminate the culture of corruption, including even resuscitated the creek on the demand for accountability and prosecution of the symbols of corruption