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From Police To Courts, Corruption Seen Rising In Middle East

Women in Yemen — where nearly 4 in 5 people using public services pay bribes — recently protested against corruption and terrorism.
Saleh Al-Obeidi
AFP/Getty Images
Women in Yemen — where nearly 4 in 5 people using public services pay bribes — recently protested against corruption and terrorism.

Freedom from corruption, at the lowest and highest levels of government, has often been cited as a spark for the Arab Spring uprisings in the Middle East. But according to a new report, many people — in one country, more than 90 percent — see corruption rising in the past year.

Those are among the findings of a new Transparency International report that says across the Middle East and North Africa, 1 in 3 people who dealt with the court system paid a bribe, and 1 in 4 who dealt with police did so.

The report found that nearly 1 in 3 people — about 50 million people — who recently used public service in the region say they paid a bribe to do so.

"Yemen has the highest bribery rate," the report says, "with nearly 4 in 5 public service users paying a bribe (77 percent). It is also very common in Egypt, Morocco and Sudan, however, where around half have bribed (48 to 50 percent).

In the broader region, a majority of people — 61 percent — believe that corruption has gotten worse in the past 12 months.

"It's as if the Arab Spring never happened," Transparency International chair José Ugaz says in a news release about the report. "Leaders who fail to stop secrecy, fail to promote free speech and fail to stop bribery also fail to bring dignity to the daily lives of people living in the Middle East and North Africa."

As for how people think about their countries, Transparency says those in Lebanon see the most corruption in their nation, with 92 percent of people saying corruption has gotten worse there. In Yemen and Jordan, the figures were 84 and 75 percent, respectively.

In addition to the rising corruption figures, the report lists four recommendations for reducing graft. For instance, Transparency is urging governments to publicly condemn and prosecute corruption, to encourage their citizens to join the fight — and to deliver on such promises that they've made in the past.

But the report also notes that of those who recently paid a bribe, only 1 in 5 people report the crime — and of that number, 2 in 5 say they suffered retaliation for doing so.

The corruption report from Transparency International comes months after it released its annual global index. In that report, Denmark and Finland were found to be the least corrupt in the world — although the organization stresses that no society is free of public corruption. For the second year in a row, the U.S. ranked in the mid-teens.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.