Over the last weeks, Egypt experienced what we can refer to as “the sedition of the Civil Service Law”. After President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi issued a law that regulates the situation of the largest governmental administrative body in the region, seven million employees, a state of polarisation ensued, one that cannot be separated from the state of polarisation that has dominated since 30 June 2013. The scene was overpowered by hollow slogans in a situation that required a substantive discussion on one of the most important reform issues in Egypt, and as usual, the truth was lost between the onslaught of the opposition, and the deficiencies of the state rhetoric.
The fact is that the state’s administrative body in Egypt has unique characteristics, and surprising contradictions. Practically speaking, this ancient bureaucratic body is what has saved the entity of the Egyptian state over the past five years, maintaining the minimal commitment meeting citizens’ living requirements. Moreover, it had a very strange ability to escape from the trap of the political polarisation, and was able to deal with three regimes, six prime ministers, and more than 200 ministers.
At the same time, this body seems to be a real obstacle against the reform. Corruption runs in its veins, and efficiency is completely absent, in addition to the fact that the volume of the body vastly exceeds the required level. The result is an army of disguised unemployment plaguing the state’s budget, making it difficult to implement any plans of restructuring, or training and rehabilitation.
The rational explanation for this contradiction is that the state’s administrative body has the ability of maintaining the state’s survival. It, however, does not have the ability qualifying it to push the state forward, and contributing to its rebirth. In other words, inspired by mathematics, this body is fit for a state to remain in static mode, but it does not at all suit a state in dynamic mode.
From here, we can see the objective justifications that create a necessity for reforming the Egyptian state’s administrative body, if the political leadership wish to lead a successful developmental project.
Reform is a process that begins with changing administrative legislations, and does not end thereafter. Thus, the question that still poses itself is: Do the legislations made by the state comply with the required reform? And does the opposition’s stance towards the legislation seem appropriare and logical?
In my opinion, the Civil Service Law does not meet the minimum requirements for reform, and does not predicate any structural changes in the trends and abilities of the state’s administrative body. The philosophy on which the law was established is “beautifying” circumstances, not changing them. For example, the law does not offer anything new, as it considers seniority – rather than efficiency – the only basis for promotions within the body. Even the method of holding central competitions for filling leadership positions has actually been used since the early ’90s, while reality testifies that this method has become a mere formality that eventually led to senior employees obtaining leadership positions, even if they display no efficiency.
The law also did not add anything in terms of employee evaluation; in fact, it expanded the powers of those in leadership positions without defining specific, firm and quantitative standards they can use to eliminate the corruption that has been straining the nation, and turning citizens’ dealing with the state’s administrative units into an unbearable hell.
Add to this the fact that the law was issued without an executive rule, and was enforced two months ago in the absence of the rule. If we deal with this with the assumption of good intentions, we can explain this as failure and confusion. However, if we deal with this more realistically, we will explain it as the state wanting to give itself some space to withdraw, as though predicting a wave of rage, which contradicts what the government announced repeatedly, that the law needs to be subjected to a long community discussion.
Moreover, the stance taken by the forces who are against the law seems weak and their logic seems fragile. This opposition group is mainly formed of political, legal, syndicate and leftist forces. Simultaneously there is another faction which is represented by the majority of the employees of the state’s administrative body, which most of the time practice an unorganised and silent opposition.
In actuality, these forces do not object to the law’s weak capacity for reform, they object to the “lost rights” of the employees, thus turning a national and reformative cause into a factional one, as though the state’s administrative body is responsible only for the employees’ financial wellbeing, while the majority of them live in a disguised form of unemployment.
The logic of those who are opposed the law seems to be permeated by political attempts to outbid opponents, and seems to carry a narrow ideological overview of a case that requires us to rise above political biases in order to reach a unified national vision. In short, this war between a confused government and an unsuccessful opposition, to a law that is too weak to meet the requirements needed to reform the state’s administrative body, can be summarised by a simple proverb: “The game is not worth the candle”.
I do not know how President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi evaluates the Civil Service Law that he issued months ago. However, I believe that this law is not by any means commensurate with his continuous call upon officials to work harder. This law, as I see it, is not capable of achieving the leaps that he has spoken of during his political speeches since he became president. The law will not reduce the corruption that troubles the president. To conclude, the law is not revolutionary enough to achieve a suitable revival to rescue a homeland, which is inundated in a bitter legacy of failure.
Dr Walaa Gad El-Karim is a researcher, writer and Middle East consultant