October 27, 2010

NOT ONLY DO NUMBERS REVEAL THE SCALE OF THE FAILURE...:

The politics of Egypt's feeble statistics: In Egypt the state has a virtual monopoly on data, which effectively stops public debate about government decisions (Brian Whitaker, 10/26/10, guardian.co.uk)

The lack of basic information in Egypt is an obvious barrier to economic and social development, as prime minister Ahmed Nazif (one of the more technocratic members of the regime) clearly recognises. Doing something about it, though, is not so easy.

For a start, there are various practical difficulties in countries such as Egypt. Having a vast, inefficient and largely paper-based bureaucracy doesn't help. Nor does the rampant corruption, where officials may have their own reasons for not keeping accurate records.

But there's more to the problem than that. One important factor is a general aversion to transparency, especially among authoritarian regimes such as the one running Egypt. Transparency leads to public debate and gives people the informational tools to question government decisions – an unwelcome state of affairs for those in power.

At the same time, a regime that can't be held accountable for its decisions doesn't necessarily see a need for accurate information on which to base its decisions: witness the Egyptian regime's irrational and unnecessary slaughter of all the country's pigs at the height of the swine flu panic, in spite of all the evidence that pigs were not to blame.

There are also some issues the Egyptian government (and others like it) would rather not talk about – and having no statistics is as good an excuse as any for shuffling them under the carpet. Sectarian tensions are one example that is considered too sensitive for thorough analysis. Egypt has no official statistics for the number of Christians among its citizens, though the total plainly runs into the millions. There is also a lack of government data on sectarian hotspots (though one Egyptian website has recently taken on the task itself).

Similarly, there has been no official census in Lebanon since 1932 – for fear of what it might reveal about changes in the sectarian balance.


...but recall Saddam's Iraq--or current Lebanon--where regimes could not afford to reveal that Shi'a are a majority.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at October 27, 2010 5:20 AM
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