The Most (And Least) Corrupt Countries In The Middle East

Dominic Dudley
JAN 26, 2017

Transparency International has released its latest rankings of corruption around the world and, as ever, there is little to cheer about in the Middle East, with five of the world’s ten most corrupt countries coming from the region.

The worst performer is Syria, which is ranked 173rd out of 176 countries, followed by Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Iraq. It is no coincidence that all of these countries are poor and war-ravaged, but even in the wealthier and more peaceful corners of the region the problem of corruption is generally getting worse rather than better.

On a scale from 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean), 90% of countries in the region scored less than 50 points, which Transparency International deems a failing score. Only the UAE, Israel and Qatar managed to stay above that threshold. The UAE is ranked highest, at 24th in the world with 66 points, followed by Israel in 28th with 64 points and Qatar in 31st place with 61 points.

It wasn’t all good news for these leaders, though. Qatar’s score fell further than any other country in the table, from 71 points last year. That was in large part due to suspicions of corruption around the 2022 World Cup, awarded by football’s scandal-plagued governing body FIFA.

“The FIFA scandals, the investigations into the decision to host the World Cup in 2022 in Qatar and reports of human rights abuses for migrant workers have clearly affected the perception of the country,” says José Ugaz, chair of Transparency International.

Other high-profile corruption cases involving the Middle East have included Brazilian firm Embraer and its sale of private jets to oil giant Saudi Aramco. But such stories only offer a hint of the increasingly pervasive nature of corruption in the undemocratic societies that prevail in the region. Of the 20 countries reviewed by Transparency International, 18 suffered a fall in their ranking this year – the only exceptions being the UAE and Israel.

Across the Middle East and North Africa, rulers such as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey and President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt are becoming increasingly autocratic. That limits the space for civil society organizations and makes it hard for anyone to tackle abuses by the wealthy and the well-connected.

“In countries with populist or autocratic leaders, we often see democracies in decline and a disturbing pattern of attempts to crack down on civil society, limit press freedom and weaken the independence of the judiciary. Instead of tackling crony capitalism, those leaders usually install even worse forms of corrupt systems,” says Ugaz.

There are a few places where progress is being made. Tunisia was one of the few countries that improved its score, albeit only slightly (rising from 38 points last year to 41 this year). The country has taken a number of steps over the past 12 months to reduce corruption, such as passing an Access to Information law and adopting a national anti-corruption strategy. Its Anti-Corruption Agency has been empowered to do its job and parliament has also adopted a Financial Court law, which allows grand corruption cases to be investigated.

Globally, the situation is also getting worse. A majority of the 176 countries included in the list scored below 50 points. And more countries declined in this year’s index than improved, compared to last year. Transparency International says deep-rooted reforms are needed to address the growing imbalance of power and wealth. That would, it says, help to empower citizens to stop widespread impunity for corruption, hold the powerful to account and have a real say in the decisions that affect their daily lives.

It is doubtful that governments in the region will pay much heed to such calls, though. In 2015, Transparency International suspended the membership of the Kuwait Transparency Society after the government there replaced its board with its own appointees. Across the region, only five chapters are now recognized, in Bahrain, Israel, Lebanon, Morocco and Tunisia, although there are others being formed in Jordan and Yemen.

  1. #1 by drngsc on Monday, 30 January 2017 - 12:02 pm

    What of Malaysia and Singapore?
    Democracies are inherently corrupt, and so is Socialism. Therefore, when there is a system of governance, there will be corruption. Lord Ashton is so right ” Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
    Those who have said that they are not corrupt either has no power, or are lying. Saints and angels are not of this world.

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