The Middle East Tribune

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Why None Succeeded to Reform Arab Bureaucracies

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During the first decade of this century, governments and organizations alike were occupied by several analysis processes to reevaluate their achievements and shortcomings, cope with the mainstream trends of people, and most importantly, create strategies for the future.

Developed countries and advanced organizations have skillfully utilized most of those novel technological advancements to promote their organizational structures, administrative regulations and bureaucracies to keep up with the modern impulse of their citizens. Besides upgrading and simplifying their standard procedures, governments equipped their bureaus and administration offices with the latest high-tech mobile capabilities, efficient networking devices, and other computerized equipment to free their bureaucratic systems from sluggishness, procrastination and corruption to improve the efficiency and functionality of their public services.

In the Middle East region, as in most developing countries, people, by and large, see bureaucracy as a mode of tiring procedures and defective conduct. For them, it points to an underhanded corrupted performance, which is based on lazy and inflexible applications of outdated administrative procedures.

In the Arab world, the core structures and procedures of Arab’s administrative and bureaucratic systems have been designed and patterned by the prolonged Ottoman rule, and were reshaped after the two world wars by the victorious French or British colonial power. In most cases, they are rigid structures that contain lots of ambiguity and impracticality, which opened the way for bias, favoritism, and corruption. Although most Arab governments have made several attempts to reform their bureaucracies; yet most of them failed to deliver the required change and development.

This actuality, however, has led the Arab public to wonder why most governments could not reform and modernize their bureaucratic system. While most people blame their political and governing system for such frustrating setback; other critics accuse their public servants of incompetence and corruption. So, why none succeeded to modernize Arab bureaucracies?

Actually, there are several diverse causes and reasons for that failure. Though there are some reasons, which are related to one particular Arab country or another,  they still share many of these reasons that led to this shortcoming.

The first and foremost shared reason is that only a few analysts and strategists reviewed the bureaucratic case from a societal and organizational culture perspective. Seeing that most public administrators and experts have underrated the effects of behavioral and social culture on the performance of public service employees.

The second reason is related to the adoption of “as is” theories and application of clichéd management systems disregarding the local wants and traditional track of each Arab society.

In the 16th century, Michel de Montaigne, a French humanist, and philosopher wrote:

“Vérité en deçà des Pyrénées, erreur au delà”, which means, “there are truths on this side of the Pyrenees, which are falsehood on the other”.

In other words, what is good and right to some, could be bad and wrong to the others.

It is a proven fact that packaged management theories are not the correct solutions to reform government systems, bureaucracies or organizations. Hypothetically, applying the British bureaucratic system in France or USA, for example, would lead to catastrophic results though all are highly developed countries. Imposing electronic procedures and online-based applications on a country that has high computer illiteracy levels, would counteract the intended reform plan and creates chaos instead, for instance.

This actuality, however, is not to imply that old-fashioned ideas and concepts should be upheld unrevised. But, to rather say that the only way to achieve good results is to adapt and adjust the selected bureaucratic structure to fit the national culture. This, however, is because communities do not have the same social culture and equal levels of general knowledge, not to mention the levels of public awareness.

After World War II and the end of the decolonization process, the United Nations (UN) along with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank (WB) jointly designed several development programs to combat poverty and create development, since four-fifths of world’s population then was living in poor countries. In essence, as most of these development programs were constructed on Western theories and organizational culture, the fact that there was no room for those impoverished countries to interject their national culture into these international development programs has changed the results. While, tens of billions of dollars were spent to facilitate the development of those poor countries; yet, the accomplished results are minimal.

National culture guides individuals and communities to adopt certain cultural principles, like honesty and conformity, to create a better society. Societal culture always influences the work practices of communities. It has a profound impact on the performance of people and productivity of organizations, public and private alike.

To that end, development strategists and experts have to take into consideration that the values, performance, and outcomes of any reform or development process of a particular bureaucracy would vary according to each national culture.

To all intents and purposes, the fact is that any government that seeks to ease up the life of its citizens has to develop a competent bureaucracy that can collectively deliver efficient public services.

To do that, it needs to have trouble-free procedures and good functional body of personnel that can operate in harmony with the national socioeconomic dynamics of the country, before taking any other step.



Author’s Note: This article is also published at Arabian Gazette


13 comments on “Why None Succeeded to Reform Arab Bureaucracies

  1. Anonymous
    February 23, 2015

    My acknowledgments for seeing and writing the now a day social and economic reality of the Arab-world. Changes need primarily come from inside each culture, by tacking the complicate factors and finding solutions; no from external influences and ideas not proper from each nation.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mohammad S. Moussalli
      February 23, 2015

      I agree but I’m sure you agree that nations have to adopt from the more advanced so that to build on it, what suit them best


  2. Sean Fischer
    February 23, 2015

    Mohammad : You mentioned slavery through another means and how Arabs had been under the thumb of the British, French, and the Ottoman Turk. That’s a dismal track record. Prior to being under the thumb of the Pasha, what did Arab bureaucracies of the antiquities look like. I think the Wāli was replaced by the Sultan, but to stay on point do you have any sources that discuss bureaucracies from ancient times? If so, I’d be interested if you shared them. Again, thanks for the excellent read.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mohammad S. Moussalli
      February 23, 2015

      Thank you Sean for your interest and comments.

      As for how “Arab bureaucracies of the antiquities look like”, the onset of bureaucracy was with the Omayyad reign after Islam. However, before that time traditional tribal dealings were the norms. In my view point, there was no similar to todays university, since madrasas were set to teach religion first and then sciences of that time. All were religious schools, seeing that religion was a mandatory science .

      I am in favor of keeping religion a matter of worship , not a life science, given the former is concerned with people’s spiritual life while the latter is about their earthly life–bearing in mind that both should produce good to humans.
      Yes secularization and democratization are the path to modernize any bureaucratic or political system, which should be considered soon.

      Thanks again


  3. Sean Fischer
    February 23, 2015

    Quote: “Developed countries and advanced organizations have skillfully utilized most of those novel technological advancements to promote their organizational structures, administrative regulations and bureaucracies to keep up with the modern impulse of their citizens.”

    You could also replace “citizens” with their “need to do more with less”, as this improves the bottom line. You can also get there by firing people to afford their technological replacement. Nepotism runs strong inside most organizations. In Arab culture, isn’t nepotism for the clan ranked very high. Culture is one thing, family loyalties is another. Worthless relatives is an even bigger issue. One can’t make money when employing fools.


  4. Sean Fischer
    February 23, 2015

    Quote: “Imposing electronic procedures and online-based applications on a country that have high levels of computer illiteracy would counteract the intended reform and create chaos instead, and so on.”

    I’d dislike lumping all Muslims together, but I will as here is a thought, and I’ve borrowed a few quotes for a little extra oomph. There is disagreement whether madrasas ever became universities.

    Scholars like Arnold H. Green and Seyyed Hossein Nasr have argued that “…starting in the 10th century, some medieval Islamic madrasas indeed became universities.” The rebuttal is an argument that “… the European university has no parallel in the medieval Islamic world.

    Instead of a preference for the madrasas sectarian educational system, you mentioned that ‘… after WW2 four-fifths of the world’s population at that time was living in poor countries. Yet, after tens of billions of dollars were spent to develop those poor countries, only minimal results were been accomplished.”

    Why not rise the level of literacy by simply mandating another system of education. Inside the US, absent the objection of monotheist conservative views, the separation of Mosque and state really does make all the difference. The same can be said of Cathedrals and Synagogues.

    Arnold H. Green. “The History of Libraries in the Arab World: A Diffusionist Model”. Libraries & the Cultural Record 23 (4): 459.
    Hossein Nasr. Traditional Islam in the modern world. Taylor & Francis. p. 125.
    Toby Huff, Rise of Early Modern Science: Islam, China and the West, 2nd ed., Cambridge 2003, ISBN 0-521-52994-8, p. 179-185
    Daniel, Norman (1984). “Review of “The Rise of Colleges. Institutions of Learning in Islam and the West by George Makdisi””
    George Makdisi: “Madrasa and University in the Middle Ages”, Studia Islamica, No. 32 (1970), pp. 255-264


  5. Pingback: Why None Succeeded to Reform Arab Bureaucracies | Indian Muslim Observer

  6. anonymous
    May 16, 2014

    I’m extremely impressed with your writing talents as
    smartly as with the format for your weblog. Keep up the nice quality writing, it’s uncommon to find a great blog like this one nowadays..


  7. T.E.Manning
    April 18, 2014

    The longer an administrative and bureaucratic system has been in place, the more distant from modern citizens’ interests it tends to be. The problem is in any case not limited to Arab countries. The Dutch constitution dates back to 1848, when just a few people (the male bourgeoisie) were allowed to “vote” and the institutions were extended to cover their interests as well as those of the nobility. See also the French revolution and the restauration that followed it. Most “revolutions” since then have suffered a similar fate.

    One way of breaking away from that tradition is to set up grass-roots cooperative systems based on the athropological development of human society, with basic groups of 200-250 people (a primary school, a nurse), intermediate groups with 1500-2000 people (a secondary school, a doctor), and more or less self-sufficient communities with about 50.000 people (tertiary education, a general hospital). At each level, the subsidiarity principle is followed, which means that whatever can be done at each level be done at that level. Each community sets up its own self-financing, cooperative, interest-free, and inflation-free local economic structures. For specialised goods and services, communities can then cooperate with each other on a zero balance basis.

    The institutions creating “a new world order” set up at Bretton Woods in New Hampshire in 1944 were declaredly designed to protect the interests of the victors of the second world war, in particular the anglo-saxon victors, and more particularly still their bankers. They have performed their function brilliantly ever since, leading to ever increasing concentration of political power and economic means in the hands of an ever smaller elite, now sometimes referred to as the corporatocracy. This is much more serious today than it was when our constitutional (institutional) structures were first formed. Then just a relatively small part of the productive economy was monetised – now control of the few through monopolistic monetisation of human activity and the commons (air, water, land, nature) is almost total (totalitarian).


  8. Waitai
    April 4, 2014

    So true, one mold doesn’t fit all.


  9. Natalie Minnis (@natubat)
    March 31, 2014

    “In most cases, they are rigid structures that contain lots of ambiguity and impracticality, which opened the way for bias, favoritism, nepotism and corruption.” That is a perfect description of many British institutions today!


    • M. Moussalli
      March 31, 2014

      Although I have lived in London for sometime, I think you know British institutions better than I do. In any case, It won’t be worst than here.
      Thank you Natalie


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© 2018 Mohammad S. Moussalli; ----------------------- Sharing, reblogging, excerpts and republication of this material, or part thereof, are permissible PROVIDED that it's clearly attributed to the author with reference to the original publication.
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