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No, Corruption Is Not the Root of the Arab World’s Problems

The real sin of ruling elites is not the capture of state resources, but failing to create enough.

Victims of economic policy.

Victims of economic policy.

Photographer: Hussein Faleh/AFP

There is little doubt that corruption is a principal motive behind the wave of protests sweeping through the Middle East and North Africa. In diverse national contexts ranging from Lebanon and Iraq to Algeria and beyond, angry demonstrators have blamed rampant and systemic corruption for the many ills of the political-economic orders governing their societies.

Western commentators and experts at international financial and development organizations have contributed to the anti-corruption discourse, claiming that corruption, cronyism and other practices of state capture have been the most powerful factors behind the MENA region’s dismal and exclusionary development record. By the same token, corruption — and more generally, bad governance — have has often been emphasized as the main reason behind the inability of MENA countries to engage competitively and efficiently in the global economic order.