The Bureaucracy

Egypt Table of Contents

Egypt's public bureaucracy was an enormous establishment encompassing at least thirty ministries and hundreds of public agencies and companies. There were ministries devoted to the traditional tasks of governance, such as the Ministry of Interior, charged with the maintenance of internal order, and the ministries of defense, finance, foreign affairs, and justice. There was also a multitude of ministries charged with managing the economy and promoting development, such as the ministries of economy and foreign trade, industry, international investment and cooperation, irrigation, petroleum, planning, power, and reconstruction. Others provided public services, such as the ministries of culture, education, health, and manpower and training. There was also a vast public sector. Under Nasser, 62 public authorities and public service organizations responsible to various ministries presided over about 600 public companies. Public authorities were holding companies coordinating profit-oriented public sector firms of similar function, whereas public service organizations were nonprofit in orientation.

Below the politically appointed ministers and deputy ministers was the civil service. It was ranked in six grades, the most senior ranks being first undersecretary, undersecretary, and general manager. Under the Nasser regime, efforts to reform and modernize the traditional civil service raised the professional qualifications of senior civil servants and opened the service to wider recruitment from the educated middle class. But to curb favoritism, seniority rather than performance was made the main criterion for advancement. In addition, Nasser used the bureaucracy to provide employment for university graduates. The reform of the bureaucracy soon fell behind its expansion in size and functions, making Egypt an overadministered society. Sadat pared back the state's control over the economy but failed to restrain the growth of the state bureaucracy and allowed its standards and efficiency to decline. The bureaucracy mushroomed from 1.2 million at the end of the Nasser era to 2 million at the end of Sadat's rule (20 percent of the work force) and 2.6 million in 1986.

The bureaucracy had a number of outstanding achievements to its credit. The special ministries and agencies set up under Nasser to build the Aswan High Dam, to carry out agrarian reform, and to operate the Suez Canal had the budgets to recruit quality personnel and carried out their missions with distinction. But by the Sadat era, the bureaucracy and the public sector were afflicted with a multitude of pathologies that made them more of a burden on, rather than an instrument of, development. The Council of Ministers generally failed to provide the strong administrative leadership needed to coordinate the sprawling state apparatus, and therefore its various parts often worked at cross-purposes. Many middle-rank bureaucrats were statists at odds with the liberalization initiatives from the top. There was a general breakdown in performance and discipline in the public service; employees generally could not be dismissed, pay was dismal except at the highest levels, and most officials moonlighted after putting in only a few hours each day at work. The excessive number of employees charged with the same job made it impossible to distinguish conscientious officials from timeservers. Under these conditions, little responsibility could be delegated to lower bureaucrats, and little initiative was expected of them.

Infitah-era policies also enervated government planning and control of the public sector. Abolishing the public authorities created under Nasser as layers between the ministries and public sector firms was supposed to give the latter greater freedom of management, but instead it brought a decline in financial accountability without really allowing managers to respond to a free market. The partial "privatization" of public sector companies cost the treasury. Government investments in joint ventures with the private or foreign sector often escaped the control of government auditors and ended up in the pockets of the officials, ex-officials, and private business partners who ran the companies. The bureaucracy was afflicted with corruption. At senior levels there were periodic scandals over embezzlement and acceptance of commissions; at lower levels, petty graft was rampant. This propensity toward corruption damaged the regime's effort to manage its most crucial and costly welfare program. The theft of subsidized commodities was facilitated by official collusion, from the clerks of government retail outlets to the high officials of the Ministry of Supply. The decline of the bureaucracy also had deleterious economic consequences; the public sector suffered from an erosion in management, while bureaucratic red tape remained an obstruction to the private and foreign sectors. The latter often had to pay off officials to negotiate the complex webs of administrative requirements.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress