Defence and transparency in the Middle East and North Africa


Updating my knowledge about how transparent defence-related procurement, budget and spending are in the Middle East. Quick response: they are not transparent. Longer answers below, for Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Jordan.

Voyage en Camouflistan. CC-by 2.0, Abode of Chaos
Voyage en Camouflistan. CC-by 2.0, Abode of Chaos


Algeria is reported to have the highest military spending in Africa (9.3 billion USD in 2013). The country is one of the world’s top 10 arms importers and has the second-largest military on the continent (after Egypt). Neither detailed security-related spending nor defence budget is published and internal auditing was criticized in recent years as non-existent. The Algerian Cour des comptes (the Auditing Institution) is not allowed to oversight defence-related financials. No public scrutiny is allowed on how the intelligence services are organized and funded. Algeria doesn’t benefit foreign military aid (its oil and gas resources make it self-sustainable) but it resorts to military import (e.g., military equipment contracts with Russia totalled nearly 3 billion USD for 2012 alone).

Security-related decision making is ensured by high-ranking military personnel and there isn’t any independent body that addresses corruption within the defence sector. Bribery is known to occur, especially within the conscription.

Theoretically, corruption is criminalised as a specific offence (Law n°06-01). Yet, neither in law nor in practice, there is an independent body mandated to receive and investigate cases of alleged public sector corruption; rather, the National Office for repression of corruption is under the supervision of the executive. High-ranking officials have not been investigated in recent years (at least, since 2012, nothing such reported from the National Office). The Office has never started an investigation on its own neither.


Morocco is a monarchy; unlike Bahrain, the King is also the Chief of the Armed Forces. The King has nearly all power over the military and defence-related decisions and expenditure. Neither detailed security-related spending nor detailed defence budget is published, and internal auditing was criticized in recent years as non-existent. No public scrutiny is allowed on how the intelligence services are organized and funded.

The King is believed to name high-ranking personnel; criteria for appointment and promotion are unknown. The military personnel isn’t authorized to engage in business, yet previous years have seen it happening. Bribery has been reported to occur as a means for promotion. Military personnel keen to disclose malpractice within a security-related institution faces military court for the threat to national security.

The overall military budget is, however, publicised and commented on. In light of recent dispute with Algeria (over borders and Western Sahara region situation), an arms race flourishes and the Moroccan Strategic Defence Intelligence has announced (end November 2013) that military spending is expected to reach 4.5 billion USD in 2018 (for 2014, total is 3.8 billion USD).

This trend is especially important considering that Morocco doesn’t have a national military production and thus relies on contracts with the US and France. Yet, no legislation exists that governs defence-related procurement. Security contracting lacks public oversight and no legal framework exists that manages or penalizes irregular bidding and malpractice.

Theoretically, the Penal Code punishes public sector corruption (laws n°248 to 256); offences defined include extortion, bribery, etc. A dedicated independent body to enforce the law doesn’t exist though; the Central Authority for Corruption Prevention (established by Decree n°2-05-1228, 13 March 2007) is not such body as it is the direct supervision of the Prime Minister.


Unlike most of the MENA states, Tunisia resembles Egypt in that they both have been transformed into police states (by Ben Ali and Mubarak, respectively). The military had had even less power in politics under Ben Ali than it had under Mubarak. The Penal Code defines corruption in the public sector as an offence (articles n°83-94).

A dedicated body, the National Institution for the fight against corruption, was created end of 2011. It aims to encompass both the public and private sectors. The two first audiences in court took place in Tunis on September 18, 2012. Yet kerfuffle within the government showed there is not a huge political will to actually empower the Institution. CSOs have also complained about the lack of investigation of the bureaucracy layers, denouncing some measures as ‘cosmetic’.

This said, there is no legal framework defining how the oversight of defence-related matters should happen; no budgets or spending details are public. Last but not least, no supervision is ensured over the intelligence services. The latter, a sensitive topic, showcases the little political will to dismantle Ben Ali’s police state. Thus, four years after his ouster, no legislation has been even drafted to address the total lack of transparency around intelligence and defence-related businesses. There is no legal framework addressing procurement, sub-contractors and contracting when it boils down to military-related matters.


Since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, Egypt has seen the return of the generals as political power. The military is governed by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) which itself presided over by a Field Marshall. Since Sadat, the military enjoys a comfortable breathing space to develop and root business activities; such a manoeuvre has always been seen as a means to demilitarise politics. Under Mubarak, political and business spheres were plagued by a huge involvement of the intelligence services which sidelined the army in politics and threatened its economical empire.

After the 2011 revolution, SCAF did not reform the intelligence but could regain full power over both politics and economy. Despite denials or claims that it has a very minor role in the country’s economy, the army is considered to control up to 40% of it; more than two-thirds of military production today is for civilian use. In a recent decision, current interim president Mansour announced even stronger powers for SCAF and lessened already limited oversight by the executive.

It is strictly prohibited to report or investigate military activities, either economical or defence-related. Big chunks of the national infrastructure are managed and owned by the army. Military income, spending and budget are unknown. How military aid from the US is allocated is also unknown. Risk of bribery and nepotism within the military is very high. Unlike Saudi Arabia for ex., allegiance is obtained through promotions and promises for a better nomination in the hierarchy as it is directly linked to a lucrative business.

Multiple laws strictly criminalise various forms of corruption (money laundering, bribery and others) but target public servants only. Although a plethora of bodies investigating corruption exist, none is independent of the executive and/or legislative branches; none can investigate military-related matters either. Despite investigations into Mubarak-era crooks, arrangements are currently ongoing with SCAF for their return in the country and its economical life.


There is no law defining corruption as a specific offence. The Law of Economic Crimes (1979) indeed states that attempts to corrupt a civil servant are punished by imprisonment. These provisions were, however, used to target and jail political opponents to Muamar Gadhafi. Despite a decree (Decree 90/2012) ordering its creation, there is currently no independent body commissioned by the government to investigate corruption.

Although a new government is in power, no legal framework exists allowing to disclose information on military-related budget and spending. No audit has been conducted so far neither. The military was known to own businesses under Gadhafi, but very little information is available on the location and amounts of the asset. According to SIPRI, Libya’s 2013 military spending totalled nearly 3 billion USD. There are no laws regulating procurement. Besides, spending criteria are not defined; there is no mechanism to evaluate whether the best offers actually win the tender.

Autonomous militias operating within Libya constitute a major security challenge. Despite calls to the government to allocate enough funds to form new army and police forces, little has been done in this direction. Instead, Libya’s new leadership have given permission to private Western firms to provide security services, thereby filling the security gap which the state must cover.

No oversight whatsoever exists over such contracting. The latter comes to the public in rare – and quite unusual – cases (e.g., the EU cancelling a 10-million euros contract with British security company G4S as it turned out it was prohibited from operating within Libya). Journalists within Libya have also denounced the lack of anti-corruption control and accountability as well as the fact that nobody knows what proportion of Libyan budget is wasted every year.


Jordan is a monarchy; the government publishes neither detailed security-related spending nor defence budget. No public scrutiny exists on the ways to organise the intelligence services. The military aid spending is unknown yet it is admittedly considerable. As of 2013, the US had given the Jordanian General Intelligence Directorate (a close partner of the American CIA) over 3.3 billion USD in aid over the previous five years.

In 2014, US president announced he would seek 1 billion USD in loan guarantees in addition to the 1.25 USD billion Congress approved in 2013. Legislative access to defence contracting doesn’t exist. As in Egypt, the military gets increasingly involved in the business. Yet, scrutiny and post-scandal measures are does not seem to exist.

Measures to combat corruption theoretically exist in some domains. Although procurement is often publicly available, defence-related contracting is not so; there is not clear auditing mechanism. Military personnel is not permitted public expression. Thus, it is difficult to assess how successful is the government’s commitment to curtail corruption within the conscription.

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