After many months of hard work, we’re excited to announce the availability of our first-ever assessments of the existence and effectiveness of national-level anti-corruption mechanisms in Qatar, Syria, and the United Arab Emirates.
Global Integrity Report: Qatar
Global Integrity Report: Syria
Global Integrity Report: United Arab Emirates
See also: UAE Behind the Numbers.
The three assessments are coming “off-cycle” in part due to the tremendous amount of effort that was required to make them happen, and we’re very proud to have made it to the finish line. As readers of the Commons are likely familiar with, working on issues of governance and transparency in these three countries is quite a challenge, to say the least. A huge amount of credit goes to our three respective teams of local researchers, journalists, and peer reviewers, many of whom cannot be named publicly or have been working under pen names for professional and personal security reasons. Kudos also go to Raymond June, Norah Mallaney, and Hazel Feigenblatt at Global Integrity for guiding the research and reporting for these assessments.
Part of the reason why doing this kind of fieldwork in the Middle East and the Gulf is so challenging is that the availability of local, independent contacts is so limited. The capacity of local “civil society” tends to be low, and the risks are high in collaborating with international organizations (like Global Integrity) on issues deemed “sensitive” by the ruling authorities.
An additional challenge is rooted in the style of governance often found in the region. Qatar and the UAE are functioning monarchies, rendering many of our “checks and balances” indicators moot and/or not applicable. When a ruling family is explicitly exempt from many of the typical governmental accountability mechanisms the international community has come to expect, interpreting and fairly assessing these countries is an extra challenge. We were careful in the review and editing of the indicators and journalistic reporting to take account of local governance structures and to avoid prejudicing the results because “the way things work” might be different from the typical model of participatory democracy.
Despite that sensitivity, significant challenges remain in all three countries in the context of implementing and enforcing effective anti-corruption controls. Syria now boasts the dubious honor of having the lowest overall score we have ever seen at the aggregate level for a country. We wouldn’t overplay this finding too much (despite it being good headline fodder), but suffice it to say that governance tends to break down in countries where states of emergency remain in effect for decades and political voice and freedom are stifled at every turn (see Egypt for another example).
Qatar and the UAE are curious in different ways. While both have courted the international investment community and have made major investments into cultivating an image of financial openness, political openness and accountability have lagged. An overarching dynamic that comes through in both assessments is one of unchecked discretion – discretion on the part of government to revoke visas from foreigners or crack down on journalists whenever they criticize government officials too openly. In Qatar and the UAE, there’s a certain amount of dread (often unspoken but always present) that saying the wrong things publicly about the government will land one in hot water. It acts like a sort of Damocles Sword hanging over the necks of citizens and ex-patriots alike, and that’s rarely a good thing for open and transparent government.
We’re fairly confident that all three assessments are the first of their kind in each country. We hope they serve as a baseline for others in advancing the debate around how best to promote more effective, transparent, and accountable government in each country. Send us your thoughts and feedback on each here.
— Nathaniel Heller & Global Integrity