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E-governance in Egypt

The Arab Spring and the rise of new social and democratic movements throughout large parts of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) may not have changed the world quite as much as millions had hoped, but at least they gave a new impetus to the use of information and communications technology and the potential of “e-government” to foster participation and engagement, increase transparency and restore public trust. 

OECD e-Government Studies: Egypt looks at the role IT played in the ongoing transition in this important North African country, triggered by demands for more democracy and social justice by the people. The authors bring us back to January 2011, the protests in the streets and the crescendo of rallies that finally led to the resignation of President Mubarak. And so a grassroots’ movement, which was initiated and sustained by vast, generally jovial, crowds reflecting the rich tapestry of Egyptian society, set forth a new chapter in this great country’s history. 

The role played by the internet, social media and smartphones cannot be underestimated, the authors argue, as it allowed citizens to spread information and co-ordinate action to an extent rarely, if ever, seen before.

As the dust settles, could e-government become a powerful tool of Egypt’s emerging future, and transform spring firmly into “summer”? The authors are upbeat, but see obstables. A key one is budgetary allocation, which in Egypt tends to be allocated by ministry and project, rather than across government.

This creates a vertical approach based on silos, which, even if they give the impression of more ownership and direct control, reduce incentives to co-ordinate across departments. Everyone loses from this approach, which makes much-needed, large IT investments nigh impossible to launch. In short, state departments should remember the lessons of the Arab Spring and do as the people did: use IT to flatten the silos, coordinate their actions and seek real change for the better.

OECD (2013), OECD e-Government Studies: Egypt, Paris.

See OECD Public sector innovation and e-government

ISBN 978926417877-9

©OECD Observer 294, Q1 2013