Unbridled impunity

Israel's former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at the Tel Aviv District Court in Israel, Tuesday, May 13, 2014. (AP Photo/Finbarr O'Reilly, Pool)

The news that former Israeli President Ehud Olmert will be spending six years in prison for corruption is one of those items that some people in the Arab world might enjoy reading, but for many others, it offers only a disappointing comparison with the situation in their own countries.

Olmert’s conviction comes just after former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi began volunteering in an old age home, as part of his sentence to perform a year of community service after he was convicted of tax fraud.

In Arab countries, state officials who are caught with their hands in the cookie jar are usually spared such fates. And in the rare cases that they lose their jobs, it’s not strange to find them benefiting from some sort of promotion to a new, less visible position.

In other countries, a substandard government response to a natural or man-made disaster might send a public official or two packing, while in Arab regimes, the notion of “accountability” is something people hear about in lectures or political rhetoric, but rarely see in action.

More and more, people are coming around to the idea that holding an election isn’t necessarily a strong indication of the health of a political system, because they know that many other things – such as a strong legal system, one that ensures the accountability of politicians – are just as important, if not more so.

Elections can mobilize the masses for a short burst of enthusiasm about certain individuals, but if these elected officials think accountability is for others and not themselves, the process leads only to more frustration and anger.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 14, 2014, on page 7.




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