Public Accountability in the Age of Social Media – Case Study Egypt (Part I)

This series discusses different concepts of public accountability in the age of social media in Traditional Public administration (TPA) systems by drawing examples from Egypt, one of the countries that exhibit a high degree of interaction between social media and channels of internal and external accountability. Through social media, public accountability may intersect with other types of accountability such as professional and managerial. The series begins by examining the characteristics of TPA and the dilemma of the separation of politics and administration. It continues discussing different types of accountability exercised by public officials internally and externally in TPA systems and critically analyses these concepts in relevance to the Egyptian case. In its second part, the series focuses on the various kinds of accountability in the Egyptian context while the concluding third part highlights the role of social media in promoting public accountability and establishing a linkage with other types of accountability. Social media not only presents itself as a new channel of public accountability, but it promotes and brings together other forms of accountability through its platforms.

Background of the Case Study

Egypt is one of the countries that are governed by a TPA system. Public administration in Egypt is organised through the civil service law number 47 issued in 1978 (Central Agency for Organisation and Administration, 2015). According to law, administrative officials are often appointed in a pyramid shaped structure institutions. They receive promotions up in the hierarchy of the government institution based on their years of service, which determines their grades and pay. In early 2011, a revolution had sparked in Egypt, inspired by social media calling for bread, freedom, justice (Alsharif & Saleh, 2013). The revolution believed that the system had failed to meet the needs of the people and to satisfy their hopes and thus it needed to be changed. In 2012, Morsi was the first democratically elected president in Egypt. The new president was the former head of the Muslim Brotherhood’s party, the most organised opposition group at the time and one of the oppressed political groups during Mubarak’s regime. In 2013, the military forces organised a coup to overthrow Morsi’s regime in response to the massive outrage against his government (BBC, 2015). The Egyptian military ruled the country in a transition period in order to prepare the country for a new presidential election after which General Abdelfatah Alsisi, the ex-minister of defence was elected. Three major changes took place after the revolution: First, the political system has changed from a one party system to a multi-party system. In the new system, parties have no observable control over policymaking or administration and are struggling to build their own cadre (Aly, 2014). Second, a new constitution has been written that gives more power to parliament and supresses presidential absolute powers. Third, the relationship between the administration and politics became interwoven. Such reforms post revolution affected accountability in many different ways as explained later.

Accountability in Traditional Public Administration

Understanding Traditional Public Administration (TPA) will pave the way for the analysis of public accountability in Egypt. Scholars highlighted some characteristics of the institutions governed by TPA, some of these characteristics are: the preference of doing over thinking; sticking to routine, roles and responsibilities; considering resources and tasks as the main input and output of the organisation (Barzelay, 1992, pp. 8–9; Osborne & Gaebler, 1992, p. 14). In line with the above scholars Barzelay (1992, p. 179) saw TPA as a form of a bureaucratic system of governance, where substance and administration control the institutions of the government. In contrast, Lynn (2001, p. 147) argues that TPA systems perform better than other systems if it succeeded in creating a state of neutrality that enables its institutions to separate between politics and administration. However, Lynn’s views are not by default valid at all times, as the issue of corruption and self-interest still hinders the progress in TPA systems and especially in Egypt even if the state of neutrality is achieved.

The major debate among TPA scholars such as Wilson, Taylor and Weber is focused on the challenges of both efficiency and the separation of politics and administration in TPA systems (Behn, 2000, p. 40; Lynn Jr., 2001, p. 148). The problem arises from the mix that often occurs between elected and appointed officials in the governmental hierarchy. Politicians are supposed to be setting the policies and the technocrat administrative system should be responsible for the implementation. The separation between politics and administration can result in fair policies and an increase in efficiency. In addition, it can make accountability follow the top-down hierarchy of the government. Behn (2000, p. 41) argues that accountability in TPA is directly related to the politicians and citizens do not have to interfere with the implementation process, thus they can only correct the course of action through elections as a form of direct accountability.

In addition to the separation of politics from administration, a TPA system ideally holds some values such as representativeness, neutrality and leadership (Lynn Jr., 2001, p. 145). The change of regimes often comes with a change of values, ideas and system of operation that in Lynn’s (ibid, p. 145) view construct the notion of democratic governance. However, the embedded values in government institutions and organisational culture that develop throughout years of operation under a single political ideology can hardly be altered even after a major change in the ruling regime. Civil servants are often reluctant to change and prefer to adhere to their old values and beliefs rather than acquiring new ones.

From a managerial perspective, the civil servant duties depend mainly on the task they are required to finish, they should ideally stick to their job description and the tasks distributed by the managers without thinking about them (Behn, 2000, pp. 47–48). In order to do this, rules and regulations have been developed inside institutions to lessen the degree of freedom in judgement for civil servants and keep this as a task for their managers. This should hold the managers accountable for their actions as well as the civil servants. The question of compliance of public officials to their superiors is sometimes dependent on the fear factor of being penalized or the motive of civil servants to advance in their career (Mulgan, 2000, p. 557). In Egypt, the degree of freedom for a change in values or compliance of officials to their superiors is minimal given that the law of civil service promotes lifelong service contracts for civil servants and does not account for their effectiveness and efficiency at the workplace. It cannot result in their dismissal except in the case of committing a criminal offence (Central Agency for Organisation and Administration, 2015).

Part II of this Series will deal with different kinds of accountability in the Egyptian context.

Author Biography:

Haytham Atef is currently a postgraduate student at the Willy Brandt School – University of Erfurt. He graduated in 2014 with an MA in Global Citizenship, Identities and Human Rights from the University of Nottingham in the UK. Formerly, he worked as a researcher in the cabinet of the ministry of planning and international cooperation in Egypt, Haytham Mones has been working on developing strategies for transparency and access to information in the ministry. Through his 12 years of involvement with civil society in Egypt, working on various projects and initiatives, Haytham has cofounded the  Qestas NGO for peace, development and Human Rights in Egypt. He has also co-founded other initiatives, such as Sinai Development Project and Nation without Borders and currently RefUlink in Germany. He also worked as the deputy director of Tahrir Lounge project at the Goethe institut and the Program Coordinator of Lazord Academy at the American University in Cairo.

References:

Alsharif, A., & Saleh, Y. (2013, October 10). Special Report – The real force behind Egypt’s “revolution of the state.” Retrieved May 15, 2015, from http://uk.reuters.com/article/2013/10/10/uk-egypt-interior-special-report-idUKBRE99908720131010

Aly, B. (2014, April 4). Egypt’s fragile political parties and social movements. Retrieved March 8, 2015, from http://www.yourmiddleeast.com/opinion/egypts-fragile-political-parties-and-social-movements_22696

Barzelay, M. (1992). Breaking through Bureaucracy: A new vision for managing in government. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

BBC. (2015). Egypt Profile – Timeline. Retrieved August 1, 2015, from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-13315719

Behn, R. D. (2000). Rethinking Democratic Accountability. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.

Central Agency for Organisation and Administration. (2015). Laws and Legislations Governing National Civil Service Employers [Allawaeh Wa Alqawaneen Allaty Tahkom Nezam Alaameleen Bel Dawla]. Retrieved May 15, 2015, from http://www.caoa.gov.eg/NR/rdonlyres/FA037574-105A-4331-B0F8-65E565BA6E11/3614/القوانينواللوائحالتىتحكمنظاما�

Lynn Jr., L. E. (2001). The myth of the bureaucratic paradigm: What traditional public administration really stood for. Public Administration Review, 61(2), 144–160. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/0033-3352.00016/full

Mulgan, R. (2000). “Accountability”: An Ever‐Expanding Concept? Public Administration, 78(3), 555–573.

Osborne, D., & Gaebler, T. (1992). Reinventing Government: How the entrepreneurial Spirit is Transforming the public sector. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Cover Image: Gigi Ibrahim under a CC-BY 2.0 creative commons license

 

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