The election of President Mohammed Mursi more resembles a dramatic screenplay than real life.
Despite being a candidate of a party formerly banned by the Mubarak regime, Mursi won Egypt’s first open presidential race by beating Mubarak’s former prime minister and symbol.
If it were a movie, dramatic music would play as Morsy took his oath of office and the story would end there.
In reality, as Mursi takes office, he must now face the many problems inherited from Mubarak.
In particular, he will have to address one of the worst legacies of the Mubarak regime—Egypt’s trust deficit.
Decades of government secrecy, corruption, and flagrant disregard for the rule of law under Mubarak have cast a shadow of distrust across society.
Surveys taken in the years leading up to Mubarak’s ouster depict a public with little trust in government.
The data is alarming: just 16% of Egyptians had confidence in their local government and a little over half had confidence in the government generally.
A 2010 survey conducted by the Egyptian Information and Decision Support Centre revealed more than 94% of Egyptians believed government corruption constituted a serious problem in their country.
The accusations and conspiracy theories that surfaced during the recent presidential elections demonstrate the transitional government has not restored the people’s trust.
If President Mursi is to be successful, he will have to address this trust deficit.
President Mursi is not the first post-revolution leader to face this problem and the experiences of other countries may be informative for the new president.
In countries such as South Africa, Tunisia, and the former Communist states of Eastern Europe, newly elected leaders turned to transparency promoting policies to restore the trust of their people after the fall of corrupt and oppressive regimes.
Among these policies are freedom of information laws (FOIL).
FOIL, also known as access to information or right to information laws, gives citizens the right to access information in the government’s possession, unless such disclosure would threaten an important public interest such as privacy or national security.
FOIL has become a widely recognised standard for good governance—at least 90 countries have adopted such laws.
It is argued FOIL improves public confidence in government in at least two ways.
First, by publicising the government’s activities, FOIL shines a light on both government virtue and corruption.
The people will know when the government is acting efficiently, competently, and honestly.
It is also widely believed the resultant transparency will deter government corruption, wastefulness, and incompetence for fear of detection.
Second, by opening the inner workings of government to the people, FOIL empowers citizens to take part in the governing process, to monitor policy, and to defend their rights.
Egypt is at an opportune time to adopt such policies.
It is presumed President Mursi will be the head of state during the writing of Egypt’s new constitution and during the formation of Egypt’s next parliament.
Although it is not yet clear the exact extent of the president’s power, he can use his influence to press for a Constitutional Amendment that recognises the right of the people to access information in the government’s possession.
Before parliament was dissolved in June, members were reviewing proposed freedom of information laws.
When parliament reconvenes, the president can and should again use his influence to encourage parliament to adopt a robust freedom of information law.
So far, President Mursi has demonstrated an interest in both building public trust and in a citizen’s right to information.
Since the announcement of his victory, trust has been a consistently mentioned topic in President Mursi’s post- victory speeches and meetings.
According to his Nahda Project on the Freedom and Justice Party’s website, Mursi endorses “Building a comprehensive network system for fighting corruption…[and] recognising citizens’ right to obtain government information.”
It would be a perfect ending to the story of his presidency if he could replace Mubarak’s legacy of secrecy and corruption with his own legacy—a trust surplus.
The writer is head of the Freedom of Information Project at the Egyptian American Rule of Law Association. She was a lawyer at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School. The article was published in the Daily News of Egypt on July 8, 2012