Egypt’s revolution of January 25, 2011 was impelled by a desire to eliminate “conventional corruption,” a particular form of corruption that occurs when government officials illegally abuse public office for private gain. Conventional corruption often involves illegal quid pro quo transactions, including acts of bribery, and is to be contrasted with “unconventional corruption,” a form of corruption that occurs when elected officials put personal campaign finances ahead of the public interest (but without engaging in a quid pro quo transaction). Although these particular forms do not represent the universe of corruption, classification of corruption in these terms serves a purpose: when conventional corruption decreases, there is often a correlating increase in unconventional corruption.
This relationship is relevant for purposes of analyzing corruption in Egypt because Egypt’s new constitution, although imperfect, provides for greater restraints on executive power, and thus provides a foundation for a reduction in conventional corruption. However, as a result, problems of unconventional corruption are likely to emerge. Fortunately, unconventional corruption is not an inevitable side effect of progress — it can be contained. With a certain bit of insight and courage, the people of Egypt can reform their campaign finance system and bring forth a true democracy — one where elected officials make decisions not for the benefit of potential political funders, but rather, for the benefit of the people.
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