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Broken promises: the politics of lax enforcement of tax laws in Egypt

Schmoll, Moritz (2017) Broken promises: the politics of lax enforcement of tax laws in Egypt. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.azv6rbqx7669


This thesis seeks to explain the lax enforcement of tax laws in Egypt. While I acknowledge that existing explanations emphasising amongst other things the importance of low administrative capacity, neopatrimonialism, or rentseeking may discern some of the drivers of tax collection performance, I claim that other factors have been neglected. Based on a combination of historical and ethnographic research, I show how historical legacies and contemporary political dynamics intertwine and shape taxation at the three levels of microlevel tax relations, intra-bureaucratic relations, and the administrative and political leadership. I argue that deep-seated distrust on the one hand, and the consequences of a persistent but broken social contract on the other, contribute to the lax enforcement of tax laws. I show how repressive statebuilding resulted in a legacy of distrust that became institutionalised over time and that permeates tax relations to this day. I also explain how post-colonial populist state-building has led to the formation of moral economies of a “caretaker state”, widely-held norms, expectations and beliefs with respect to what the state should do for its citizens and its employees. The persistence of core aspects of this social contract until this day, in combination with its breaking by the state, shapes state and bureaucratic politics in important ways. On the one hand, tax collectors are in many different ways less inclined to do their jobs effectively and to strictly enforce the law against their fellow citizens. On the other hand, lenient enforcement is influenced by regime fears that the strict application of tax laws could provide a trigger for regimethreatening popular mobilisation. These findings make a number of different contributions to the literatures on taxation in developing countries, everyday governance and the enforcement of laws, as well as Middle East political science. Most crucially however, my research shows that both distrust and normative-ideational factors have to be taken seriously not only when it comes to explaining the willingness of taxpayer to pay, but also the willingness of tax collectors to collect.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2017 Moritz Schmoll
Library of Congress subject classification: K Law > K Law (General)
Sets: Departments > Government
Supervisor: Hertog, Steffen

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