TADAMUN believes that our urban communities are diverse, with their own histories, character, needs, and hopes. Egyptian cities are rich, vibrant, and resourceful. “One-size-fits-all” urban planning models and inflexible housing policies are not the answer to solving urban problems today. An informal neighborhood which is thirty years old and has decent transportation networks, public schools, and local jobs has quite different needs than a neighborhood of historic nineteenth century buildings, an underserved public sector housing complex, or a community in peripheral informal areas with few public services.
We emphasize this local character of our communities because Egyptian citizens want to improve their neighborhoods and cities. As many people would agree, all politics is local and change begins at home. Yet, the local level has been bureaucratically eclipsed by central authorities and national politics in Egypt, leaving very little room for local deliberation, local representation, and locally-driven development. Inadequate funding at the local level of government, weak local representation, low paid civil servants, and outside staffing has sent the message to residents that they have no right or reason to consider the communities in which they live as their own.
Before the revolution, Local People’s Councils (LPCs), the representative body of local government, had very little autonomy, no legislative power, few economic resources, and a limited mandate (see “Who Pays for Local Administration” for more information on the financial dimension of local government). Since the Revolution, many residents across the country are exploring ways to improve their communities and work with public and private actors to strengthen them. Our cities benefit from the contributions, input, and local knowledge of their residents and their ideas should be publicly encouraged and lauded, yet instead, they are often ignored.
This policy alert explores the system of local administration in our cities and discusses the challenges and problems it faces in dealing with the post-Revolution political reality as citizens continue to demand their right to the city—whether through protests in Tahrir Square, when paying local taxes and fees, demanding better transportation, seeking permits to renovate an apartment, or trying to create public space in informal areas. The right to the city means that all citizens have equal access to enjoy the city fully, the just distribution of public resources and services among all citizens, a balance between urban and rural development, and the democratic management of the city to achieve full citizenship for all city inhabitants (see Constitution of Ecuador 2008). Achieving social justice in Egypt requires strengthening the “local” in order to level the balance of power between central and local authority in Egypt so that citizens may have a better chance of shaping their own communities. In particular, two dimensions of the larger concept of the Right to the City, The Right to Participation in Urban Management  and The Right to the Public Space  are particularly weak in Egypt, and both citizens and public actors need to concentrate on strengthening these critical dimensions of urban life as Egypt tries to live out the ideals of social justice, freedom, and dignity after the Revolution. Soon, national attention will turn to revising the system of local administration through legislative or executive reforms and holding national elections for local councils. Therefore, this policy alert not only aims to educate the public about local government during the previous regime, but to raise questions and engage public debate in reimagining a more participatory, responsive, accountable, representative, and skilled municipal system.
By definition, Egypt does not have local government, but instead local administration—a matter of semantics with wide-ranging implications. To understand this point is crucial to understanding the challenges facing communities in Egypt’s cities. In terms of politics, a local administration is a body that is responsible for the implementation of a set of laws and policies whereas a local government is a body that not only administers laws and policies but also creates them. The Egyptian government projects the idea that it is singular, monolithic, and hierarchical. This is a legacy of colonialism, the Nasserist desire to consolidate the state, develop the economy, and redress the inequities of colonial and monarchical rule (Chaichian 1988). For example, the British insisted that village mayors would no longer be chosen by their communities but would be appointed by the central authorities in the Ministry of Interior in the late nineteenth century. They insisted that “centralized hierarchy not local accountability . . . would produce a new breed of diligent petty bureaucrats “. . . since “politics did not belong in the village, or in the countryside more generally” (Jakes 2012). More recently, Hosni Mubarak further centralized the state and consolidated his power through the central government during his thirty-year rule (Sayigh 2012). As a result of these legacies, legislative authority lays with the central government alone, and national-level policies direct almost all aspects of governance, public service provision, and development initiatives throughout the country. Therefore, as the thinking goes, there is no need for local government, just local administration. From a local perspective, the effect has been to look to the central government for everything. However, despite how the Egyptian government projects itself, the reality is that the central government is bloated, confused by overlapping jurisdictions and elite intervention, and often, but not always, under-resourced (Abel and Emin 2006).
Part of the Mubarak regime’s strategy of consolidating power was through an extensive patronage network (Sayigh 2012). The calculus was straightforward and time-honored: the more jobs a leader has to give, the greater allegiance they can command. As the state modernized and new laws were put into effect, old state-level agencies and ministries expanded and new ones were created while very few were eliminated (many have changed their name). As a result of this bloat, government employee wages account for 90 percent of current expenditures of local administration as compared to the 60-70 percent standard around the world. The ratio of local administration workers to population is 1:21, whereas in decentralized Western Europe, this ratio ranges from 1:70 to 1:80 (Handoussa and El-Oraby 2004 in Amin and Ebel 2006).
Although Hosni Mubarak is no longer in power, this patronage network remains more or less intact. How the current and future leaders of Egypt deal with this legacy will determine the extent to which the Egyptian government will be able to respond to the demands of citizens. However, to understand the extent of the challenge, it is important to understand the extent of the network itself.
The patronage network consisted of two parts: the National Democratic Party (NDP) and the military and we will discuss each in turn, but first it is important to briefly present an overview of the quantity and type of government positions in Egypt.
Egypt is divided into governorates, provinces, cities, districts, and villages for administration purposes and the levels of administration differ by governorates (The New Egyptian Constitution (NEC), Article 183, 2012). There are currently 27 governorates in Egypt (muhaaftha). Five more will be added by 2017, bringing the total to 32 (“Egypt to Create,” 2012). As of 2002, there were 166 “centers” and 200 metropolitan areas that are designated as cities. Each city is further subdivided into districts, (ahiyaa’) of which there are hundreds. Cairo alone had 23 (one estimate put this number at 34), which does not include Giza, which, while part of the Greater Cairo Area, is its own governorate with many rural villages (qura) and cities (madina) attached to it. Markiz/Marakiz are a higher level of administration over cities and villages, largely found in more rural provinces (see Adeed 2012 for further detail). Below the cities, or entirely independent of them, are the 4,617 villages, 920 of which were large enough to have their own local councils (Sayigh 2012, 13).
Figure 1: Varied Configurations of Local Governance in Egypt
Each level of government administration (every governorate, province, city, and district as well as some villages) had four components before the Revolution of 2011: an executive officer, an administrative staff, an Executive Council (EC) and a LPC (Mayfield 1996). The local administration staff included service directorates,  the executive’s personal staff,  and a series of development related departments. Each EC was headed by the executive officer and included the executive’s assistant, the chief executives of the sub-governorate administrative units and heads of public departments, agencies, authorities within the governorate as well. The governor could also invite heads of the public utilities to be on the councils (Law of Local Administration – Law 43 of 1979 (LoLA), Article 32 in Mayfield, 1996).
All subnational administrations were answerable to the central government and ultimately to the President. These subnational administrations were executive-driven and had no legislative authority. Further, the central government had strong representation at each level of government through locally-based civil servants employed and answerable to national ministries in Cairo, to ensure state policies were being enforced.
With the exception of the LPCs, every member of the administration was appointed from above (Sayigh 2012). For example, governors were appointed directly by the President and served at his pleasure and could be removed by presidential decree at any time (Law of Local Administration, (LoLA) Article 4, 25, 26 and Article 187 in the NEC). The Governor sat at the head of the Governorate-Level EC and held authority over all central ministry field staff within his governorate, though these staff members were also answerable to the ministries themselves.
Even though the LPCs were “elected” they too were subordinate to the central government as discussed below. Despite elections, locally elected bodies in Egypt were weak and ineffective. They did precisely what they were supposed to do: administer national policy. Under the Mubarak regime, this left little space for civic dialogue and without dialogue between local representatives (not administration) and constituents, urban development and public services suffered, no one was held accountable, and trust was lost. And so to be heard, citizens took their complaints to Tahrir Square.
On paper, the LPC was supposed to control local decision-making. The Law of Local Administration (LoLA) gave LPCs the authority to supervise all utilities (paving, parking, transportation hubs, lighting, subsidized bread distribution, water, sanitation, sewage, environment, electricity, natural gas, local development and beautification, construction permitting, public health centers and vaccination programs) and activities of the governorate, they could suggest new taxes, and impose new fees and duties. They were given the authority to approve public housing and construction projects, social and economic plans, as well as the annual budget of the governorate. They could also establish rules governing the relationship between the government and the public (LoLA, Article 12). The hierarchy and tiers of local councils varied (See Figure 1 above) depending on the character of a province (composed of huge cities like Cairo or Alexandria, rural villages, or provincial cities) (Mayfield 1996).
However, in practice, the LPCs had far less power than their responsibilities imply. First, they were often dominated by the appointed ECs. The LPC supervisory role was more advisory (and optional), their suggestions for new taxes could not be turned into law until the central government gave their approval, and their ability to impose new fees and duties was severely restricted. Further, any decision made by an LPC was subject to the approval of the higher-level LPCs and ultimately could be rejected by the governor if it did not comport with national policy (Mayfield 1996; Amin and Ebel 2006).
This is not to say all LPCs were prostrate. The ambiguities in practice in local administration and the varying degrees of administrative experience from council to council allowed for some councils to be more assertive in their role, while others had little influence over anything (Mayfield 1996).
Although LPCs were, and will continue to be, constrained by executive authority, a limited mandate, weak fiscal power, and a staff that is responsible to other entities, they still had informal political power to mobilize the population since they were rooted in the community. Important families, businessmen and those who were politically connected and ambitious typically dominated LPCs during the Mubarak era (Mayfield 1996).
The NDP dominated politics at all levels of government, held every major public position (and many private positions), and was rarely challenged in elections as a result of the widespread administrative suppression of opposition parties—yet at the local level, its domination of LPCs was by design, complete (Brownlee 2002).  For example, in 2006, the Mubarak regime extended the national state of emergency for two years and postponed LPC elections because of the earlier success of the Muslim Brotherhood in the People’s Assembly elections in 2005. Popular protests in response to this decision were summarily suppressed. In the run up to the 2008 local elections, opposition parties were sufficiently diminished through strong-arm tactics as well as bureaucratic hurdles. About 1,000 opposition activists were arrested, most from the Muslim Brotherhood, and the regime responded to labor protests with a severe crackdown that resulted in two deaths. When they tried to submit registration forms for their candidacy, the government did not allow opposition candidates to contest the election. Only a small percentage of those who successfully submitted their forms were approved to run. At the last minute due to these irregular and repressive government tactics, the Muslim Brotherhood, the largest opposition party, boycotted the elections. They had filed court cases demanding their rights to candidacy, and even though they were successful in the courts, the authorities refused to allow them to run. As a result, only about 1,000 opposition party members ran for office in 2008 as compared with the more than 53,000 NPD candidates (Herzallah and Hamzawy 2008, 5).
The results of the elections were farcical. The executive authority granted 80 percent of the total 52,000 local council seats to NDP members who ran unopposed and of the remaining contested seats, the NDP won 95 percent. That the elections were a sham was evident by the margins of victory, underscored by the paltry five percent participation of eligible voters (Herzallah and Hamzawy 2008, 1, 5).
This trend of NDP domination paired with low voter turnout at the local level characterized the Mubarak era. Given this history, citizens rightly believe that the LPCs did not represent them and did little for them.
The hidden element of the patronage network is the military. Yezid Sayigh (2012) of the Carnegie Middle East Center calls this military patronage network the “Officer’s Republic of Egypt,” a parallel institution to the Egyptian state in which the interests of the army and police, their retired officers, and their allies rule with impunity. This Officer’s Republic runs deep in local administration. As Sayigh argues, “Military retirees have come to staff all levels of local government, acting as a parallel executive and security arm that ultimately reports to the president through the provincial governors he appoints,” and it is from these sinecures that they also profit tremendously with high wages and perks in appreciation for their earlier military service (2012, 6). For example, at any given time since the mid-1990s, 50-80 percent of Egypt’s governors were retired military officers and another 20 percent came from the police or security services. Retired officers often filled other leadership positions subordinate to the governor at the governorate level. This pattern is largely mirrored by the lower levels of administration as well (Sayigh 2012).
The impact of this extensive patronage network was manifold. First, Egypt’s decision-makers were completely isolated from the public by layers of administration and bureaucracy. There were few, if any, forums for public debate and little space for residents to express their needs and desires to the government in an institutionalized setting. The local administration was not accountable to the populous, but instead to those who brought them to power. In order to keep their jobs, civil servants must dutifully implement national policies irrespective of the demands from communities (Amin and Ebel 2006).
A second impact of the NDP’s patronage network was the endemic corruption at the local level. According to a 2009 survey conducted by the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), 62 percent of all illegal payments made by citizens were paid to local government units (CIPE, 2009).  In 2008, Egypt’s Central Auditing Agency reported that there were financial irregularities at the local level of EGP 464.6 million and one can only assume that this is an underestimate.  Also, there were irregularities and profligate public spending in special funds for governorates amounting to EGP 1.648 billion (CIPE 2009, 21).
On June 28, 2011, an administrative court disbanded the LPCs at all levels of administration because they were seen as loyalist holdovers of the Mubarak regime (Ahram Online, 2012b). How the Freedom and Justice Party, which leads the current government in Egypt, will attempt to reform local government to be more responsive to the population remains to be seen. On March 6, 2013 an administrative court delayed the Parliamentary elections after they ruled that the Islamist-dominated parliament forced through a law organizing the elections without allowing for proper review by the Supreme Constitutional Court. New LPC elections will not take place until after the Parliamentary elections which may not be held until October 2013 after several delays prompted by political crises and legal challenges. In short, when the LPC elections take place is anyone’s guess (Michael 2013). It is telling that, in the absence of the LPCs, few Egyptians seem to have noticed. Is it that the executive councils, which are still in place, are running local districts well enough without the popular councils, or is that widespread complaints about the erosion of public services and government in general, are due to reduced economic resources for local services, a crisis in local governance, or other factors?
That there has yet to be local elections held in Egypt to re-establish these local councils demonstrates one of two things. One possibility is that the Freedom and Justice Party is not prepared or does not have faith in the competency of local administration, although before the Revolution they advocated for further decentralization in Egypt. Much has been made of the relative incompetence of local bureaucrats (Amin and Ebel, 2006) as well as the extent of corruption within local administration (CIPE 2009), but it is a chicken and egg type argument: does competency follow authority or authority follow competency? Will corruption decline with accountability or must corruption fall before accountability is possible? In the best interpretation, the Freedom and Justice Party is trying to navigate a middle path, a measured devolution of authority, careful to get things right the first time rather than letting local administration run amok. And there is some evidence that this is the approach they are taking.
The New Constitution, drafted under controversial conditions in November 2012, calls for a singular Local Council comprised of elected officials only, and within it, an executive apparatus without voting power (Article 188). This is a departure from the pre-revolution era in which there were two councils, one of which was the appointed Executive Council, disbanded by the administrative courts because of their fealty to the previous regime. The extent of the decision-making authority of these local councils remains to be seen as they are still subject to State oversight “to prevent the Council from overstepping limits, or causing damage to public interests or the interests of other Local Councils” (Article 190). The pliancy of this language gives considerable leeway for the authoritarian tendencies of the previous Egyptian government to reassert themselves (more on this below). What are the limits of the Council? Through what mechanisms can another Council protest because their interests are damaged? How will the regime ensure just dealings from Council to Council or will the interests of the well-connected cronies again prevail? Who will hold the new elected councils accountable, beyond the power of elections to oust those in power, and how will the public be able to hold local civil servants in the local administrative system accountable? Will the re-arranged public local authorities “invite” the public to engage with them in public forums and publically vet local policies? Will the national government and local government support strengthened right to information laws so that the general public has a level playing field to access budgetary, financial, and administrative data? Will the new government reach out to the public and encourage their engagement more consciously through participatory budgeting exercises, social audits, or participatory planning projects.
Another departure from the previous regime is that these Local Councils are supposed to have authority over their own budget and final accounts (Article 191) and hold final decision making authority (Article 189) according to the new constitution. They are responsible to “create and manage local facilities—economic, social, and health-related—and other activities” (Article 189). Yet, the meaning of these slight changes is still quite vague and other political parties and civil society actors have been demanding that the Constituent Assembly charged with drafting the constitution further democratize and decentralize local government. The more detailed structure of the post-2011 system of local administration is still to be regulated by Parliament or new executive regulations and there is much debate among experts and political actors about what the new constitutional articles really mean and how they will be implemented.
The second interpretation of the Freedom and Justice Party’s reluctance to empower local government is that they don’t want to embrace or strengthen it or that the vestiges of Mubarak’s patronage network won’t allow it. Traditionally the Egyptian bureaucracy has feared delegating, devolving, or ceding authority since it views these changes as the equivalent of losing control (Mayfield, 1996). And what newly empowered government wants to “lose control”? In addition, some of the recent provincial unrest that has spread widely in Egypt to cities such as Port Said, or the Sinai, raises fears in Egypt that allowing local autonomy will lead to furthering regionalism and national disintegration (as occurred in Eastern Europe following the demise of the Iron Curtain in 1979).
It follows that a simple way to solve this issue of central government domination of local administration is to allow the people not only to elect their LPCs in free and fair elections (as they supposedly did under the prior regime), but to hold elections for the chief executive position as well – and the governors. Yet, this is unlikely.
Source: Tadamun and the Egyptian Constitution 2012.
Article 187 of the New Constitution reads: “The law regulates the manner of selecting governors and heads of other local administrative units, and defines their jurisdiction” and thus if Parliament changes the law, it is possible that Governors could be popularly elected in the future, but they currently remain appointed by the President. Under the Law of Local Administration (Law 43 of 1979), the President appointed the governors and the Prime Minister (himself appointed by the President) appoints sub-governorate chiefs. Prior to the disbanding of Parliament by the courts in 2012, a new local administration law replacing the standing Law 43 of 1979 (amended several times thereafter) was being considered. “Some experts who have reviewed the 2012 draft law believe that its provisions could serve the democratic ideals of the revolution quite well: “Egypt can decentralize authority and catalyze democracy-building and human development by passing the long-delayed Local Administration Law. The draft law transfers power from non-elected governors to people’s representatives to the Local Popular Councils, to manage sub-national jurisdictions and public service delivery. Unfortunately, with Egypt’s parliament dissolved, the law’s passage appears impossible, at least in the near future” (Ben-Meir, 2011).
Although people are understandably focused on electing a new Parliament and national politics, TADAMUN urges that transforming what is now “local administration” into representative, responsive, accessible, and democratic local government merits the attention and political interest of Cairenes and all Egyptians. While some urban problems can be solved more effectively at the national level, others can be debated and solved at the local level if LPCs have resources, authority, and legitimacy. As many would agree, “all politics is local” and local solutions and local leaders can emerge from a revitalized local government system that is popularly elected and locally rooted, and held accountable by both the state and society.
ناهد أديب. 2012. النظام المحلي في مصر الواقع الحالي ، الإشكاليات ومبررات التغيير. ورقة مقدمة لورشة عمل “نحو إطار دستوري وقانوني داعم لتطبيق اللامركزية في مصر“. العين السخنة. 28-30 مارس: مؤسسة ماعت للسلام والتنمية وحقوق الإنسان، مؤسسة هانس زايدل. (Last accessed 3 April 2013). [Nahid Adeeb. 2012. “Local Government in Egypt: The Current Reality, Problems and Rationale for Change.” Workshop on "Towards more Supportive Legislative Framework of Decentralization." Maat for Peace, Development and Human Rights, Hanns Seidel Stiftung, March 28-30, Ain Sukhna, Egypt. ]
Amin, Khaled Z. and Robert D. Ebel. 2006. “Egyptian Intergovernmental Relations and Fiscal Decentralization: Diagnostics and An Agenda for Reform.” The World Bank, Washington, DC.
Ben-Meir, Yossef. 2011. “Egypt’s Second Grassroots Resurgence.” Africa News.com. 18 May 2011. Retrieved from http://www.africanews.com/site/OPINIONEgypts_second_grassroots_resurgence/list_messages/38545 (Last accessed: March 11, 2013)
Brownlee, James. 2002. “The Decline of Pluralism in Mubarak’s Egypt.” Journal of Democracy, 13 (October): 6-14.
Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE). 2009. “Decentralization and Curbing Corruption in Local Government: Impact on Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises.” Cairo, Egypt.
Chaichian, Mohammad A. 1988. “The Effects of World Capitalist Economy on Urbanization in Egypt, 1800-1970.” International Journal of Middle East Studies, 20 (February): 23-43.
“Egypt to Create Five New Governorates to Push Decentralization.” 2012. Ahram Online. 21 October. http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/3/12/56122/Business/Economy/Egypt-to-create–new-governorates-to-push-decentra.aspx (Last Accessed: April 3, 2013)
“Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement, The (EACPE).” 2009. Universal Periodic Review (UPR): The Arab Republic of Egypt Report, September. Retrieved from http://lib.ohchr.org/HRBodies/UPR/Documents/Session7/EG/EACPE_UPR_EGY_S07_2010_EgyptianAssociationforCommunityParticipationEnhancement_E.pdf
El Shahed, Mohamed. “The City and the Constitution.” 2012. Cairo Observer, December 14. http://cairobserver.com/post/37909283960/the-city-and-the-constitution?14ddd4f8#.UVv9y1eSnbO (Last Accessed January 3, 2013).
“Egypt’s Local Council Elections to Take Place under Old Law: Minister of Parliament.” 2012. Ahram Online. 5 March. http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/1/64/36056/Egypt/Politics-/Egypts-local-council-elections-to-take-place-under.aspx (Last Accessed: February 13, 2013)
Handoussa, Heba and Nivien El-Oraby. 2004 “Civil Service Wages and Reform: The Case of Egypt.” Working Paper 98, Egyptian Center for Economic Studies, Cairo.
Herzallah Mohammed and Hamzawy Amr. 2008. “Egypt’s Local Elections Farce Causes and Consequences.” Carnegie Endowment Policy Outlook, Washington, D.C. Retrieved from http://www.policyarchive.org/handle/10207/bitstreams/6520.pdf
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Mayfield, James B. 1996. Local Government in Egypt: Structure, Process, and the Challenges of Reform. American University in Cairo Press, Cairo.
Michael, Maggie. 2013. “Court Suspends Egypt’s Parliamentary Election.” Associated Press, Cnsnews.com 6 March 2013. Retrieved from: http://cnsnews.com/news/article/court-suspends-egypts-parliament-election (Last Accessed: March 11, 2013).
Republic of Ecuador. Constitution of 2008. Political Database of the Americas, Center for Latin American Studies, Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C. http://pdba.georgetown.edu/Constitutions/Ecuador/english08.html (Last Accessed: March 10, 2013).
Sayigh, Yezid. 2012. Above the State: The Officer’s Republic in Egypt. Carnegie Middle East Center. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington, DC.
 The Right to Participation in Urban Management is defined in the Ecuadoran Constitution as “[c]itizen participation in urban planning decisions, participatory budgeting at the village, district and city scales, citizen accountability and management of different aspects of the city, and right to access to information” (see Republic of Ecuador 2008).
 The Right to the Public Space is defined in the Ecuadoran Constitution as “[p]rioritizing the common use of public space over individual interests, protecting the right to use public spaces as a sphere for deliberation, social cohesiveness and the promotion of equality, allowing citizens to express their cultures and opinion without restriction, and provide public spaces with appropriate facilities for disabled persons” (see Republic of Ecuador 2008).
 These are sub-national offices of the central ministries (Mayfield 1996).
 This staff includes several departments including: legal affairs, public relations, citizen services, communications affairs, building security, accounting/auditing, and follow-up and control (Mayfield 1996).
 Exceptions are the 2000 and 2005 Parliamentary Elections (Brownlee 2002 and Herzallah and Hamzawy 2008).
 A survey of 800 small and medium-sized enterprise employers was conducted in six governorates in June 2009 by the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies and the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE). For further detail see (CIPE 2009).
 Financial irregularities include: waste of public money, misuse of government property; mishandling of storehouses; other types of embezzlement, fraud, and manipulation (CIPE 2009).
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