As the largest Arab country in the Middle East-North Africa (MENA) region, Egypt will play a significant role in the future as an advocate of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). Egyptian officials want to promote commercial ADR to entice Western corporations to invest in the region. Egypt specifically is interested in increasing the competitiveness of the private sector by targeting the insurance, information technology, banking and construction industries. The goal is to utilize private mediation companies such as the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution (CEDR) from the UK to offer basic and advanced training and credentialing, primarily to lawyers, and then promote a mediation culture throughout Egypt via conferences, workshops, the media, and public awareness campaigns.
To achieve that goal, the Cairo Regional Centre for International Commercial Arbitration (CRCICA—www.crcica.org.eg) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC—the private sector arm of the World Bank--see footnote) partnered to hold a conference in May 2010 to gather judges, lawyers, academics and business leaders in Cairo to promote the use of ADR in Egypt. I was living in Egypt at the time, and was able to attend as a conflict resolution researcher. I engaged in participant observations and interviewed some of the attendees.
Participants at the conference discussed the 2010 Doing Business Report published by the International Finance Corporation of the World Bank Group. Egypt ranked 148 out of 183 countries globally in the efficiency of enforcing business contracts. In Egypt, it took the courts on average between 950-1000 days to resolve a legal contract dispute. (In the UK, it averaged 400 days, and in France, approximately 330 days). The cost of enforcing a business contract (as a percentage of the claim) was 26% in Egypt. This is why CRCICA and IFC, the Egyptian Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Investment, and the Egyptian Bar Association have a long-term interest in using Egypt’s position in MENA to institutionalize the use of ADR in the region, so as to modernize the legal system as well as improve the investment climate.
The problem with Egyptian courts is that their inefficiencies make international business contract enforcement slow and cumbersome. Challenges faced by Egyptian courts include: a shortage of judges, a heavy case load, few judges who are knowledgeable or trained in ADR, a lack of transparency in the courts, an antiquated record system (few courts outside of Cairo have computerized record-keeping), and the lack of legal infrastructure to make ADR viable. Thus, Egypt first needs to build institutional capacity for ADR services.
Another important consideration to take into account while implementing ADR in Egypt is the role of religion. Egypt is a very religious society, with between 85-90% of the population Sunni Muslim (most of the rest of the 10-15% are devout Coptic Christians). Given Islam’s dominant cultural and religious position in Egyptian society, ADR must be introduced in a way that emphasizes its harmony with Islam as part of the public awareness campaign. Just as Christian mediation services in the US such as “Peacemaker Ministries” utilize Bible verses to legitimate the use of mediation to resolve conflicts among Christians, Muslims in Egypt may need to justify ADR’s use through Quranic verses in order to help the population culturally accept mediation. If the average Egyptian sees ADR as a “Western invention,” it will be much more difficult to convince them of its legitimacy. However, by pointing out that ADR principles are found in the Qur’án and Sharia (Islamic law), it becomes more likely that people will employ mediation techniques. For example, one conference presenter highlighted the following verse: “The recompense of an injury is an injury the like thereof; but whoever forgives and thereby brings about a reestablishment of harmony, his reward is with God; and God loves not the wrongdoers” (Qur’án, 42:40). The need to legitimate mediation in a conservative religious context is especially true in the small villages in Upper Egypt, according to one prosecutor I interviewed. Outside of urban centers, the legitimacy of the state (secular) courts weakens among the traditional population. In these villages, tribal custom often trumps the Egyptian penal code, as honor killings and sectarian clashes are often given tacit approval from local imams (mosque leaders) and sheikhs (religious leaders knowledgeable about Quranic law).
The conference organizers concluded that lawyers, litigants and judges all have to be trained in ADR techniques, case law needs to be developed for mediation and arbitration in Egypt, and a comprehensive set of dispute management institutions need to be nurtured. Given Egypt’s standing in the Arab world, these changes to the legal system could have widespread influence on the whole region.
Egypt is just one example of how the IFC is trying to promote mediation for commercial reasons. Between 2004-2009, the IFC spent $128 million to promote ADR projects, held 157 workshops with over 7,500 participants, and 2,561 cases were mediated in IFC-sponsored projects (with a 73% settlement rate). They developed 13 active projects since 2002 in Southern Europe (Serbia, Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Macedonia, and Ukraine), MENA (Egypt, Pakistan, and Morocco), Southeast Asia (Cambodia and Bangladesh), and in the Pacific Islands.