During the Tunisian revolution of 2010-11, which sparked the Arab uprisings, protesters would chant “A job is a right, you pack of thieves!”. In Ben Ali’s Tunisia, supposedly a “democratising” country that regularly received Western praise for its economic “reforms”, people felt increasingly marginalised both economically and politically.
Tunisians have been out on the streets again recently, demonstrating against government policies and especially against corruption and unemployment. There have also been protests against corruption in Morocco. It is all very reminiscent of what happened seven years ago, where ending corruption was one of the principal demands of protesters alongside social justice and political freedom.
Our recent research suggests that corruption continues to be a major cause of discontent throughout the Middle East and North Africa. It confirms the findings in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, which ranks several countries in the region among the most corrupt in the world. Does this mean we are in danger of seeing history repeat itself?
Transparency International rankings 2016
Expectations of change after the uprisings have become increasingly frustrated: Jordan and Morocco have attempted to absorb protest; Egypt’s counter-revolution continues to stifle any significant change; and rumbling discontent in Tunisia is a reaction to the government’s failure to deliver on promises of jobs, development and fighting corruption.
Our latest research, which is part of the Arab Transformations Project, includes a public opinion poll of almost 10,000 people across the region carried out in late 2014. It found that corruption was perceived as by far the most important cause of the Arab Uprisings in Iraq, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia. In Egypt and Jordan, it came a close second after economic problems.
Around 60 per cent of all respondents thought there was still a great deal of government corruption in their country. Nor did citizens see any signs of a government crackdown – essential for any significant transition to stabilised democracy.