One year on: Gazans feel the pain of being abandoned by Egypt

 
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By Khaled Diab

Although the Israeli siege of Gaza hurts more materially, the Egyptian blockade is more painful emotionally. It is also counterproductive.

Photo: ©Khaled Diab

Photo: ©Khaled Diab

Friday 24 July 2015

With all the paranoia and distrust in the air, many fellow Egyptians may well declare me temporarily insane for having ventured into the Gaza Strip, which I visited late last month. The Palestinian enclave is depicted by influential segments of the Egyptian media as a hornet’s nest of terrorism and anti-Egypt sentiment.

But I’d like to reassure my compatriots that they can breathe a sigh of relief. This born and (partially) bred Egyptian made it in and out of Gaza in one piece, and has emerged – after seeing the destitution, destruction and psychological ruin there – more convinced than ever that the blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt must end.

In case any readers assume that I’m pro-Hamas or even pro-Muslim Brotherhood, let me make it clear from the outset that I am a committed secularist and a robust critic of Islamism and religious fundamentalism in all its forms. But as a rationalist, I take an evidence-based approach to reality. This means that I don’t buy the popular conspiracy theories in Egypt about Gaza.

With a straight face, Egypt’s pro-military media has been spreading numerous myths. These include reports that Hamas is behind the Sinai insurgency; that it aided and abetted Muslim Brotherhood rule in Egypt, including a spectacular prison break involving Mohammed Morsi before he became president; and that the blackouts and petrol shortages afflicting a country of 85 million inhabitants were caused because the Morsi regime supposedly diverted supplies to an impoverished territory of 1.8 million people.

But memories are short. In reality, Morsi was not as sympathetic to Gazans as is widely believed today. He continued his predecessor Hosni Mubarak’s blockade policy, and even destroyed smuggling tunnels and worked to stop the flow of fuel into the Strip. In fact, Morsi was regularly praised in the Israeli press and by politicians, while being attacked by Hamas officials as crueller than Mubarak.

But Gazans are not the type to hold a grudge against Egyptians, regardless of what the Egyptian government does or doesn’t do.

Although I was not afraid to enter Gaza, I was somewhat apprehensive about what kind of reception I would get from a population that had suffered so much under the Israeli-Egyptian blockade. But despite the criticism of Egypt I heard from pretty much everyone I met in Gaza, I was still the recipient of Gazans’ famed hospitality and generosity – and I got to hear their nostalgic memories of the days when no border existed between Egypt and Gaza.

People in Gaza are generally bewildered and hurt by Egypt’s participation in the blockade and the smears against them in the Egyptian media, which they feel adds political insult to the injury of living under siege. “Why is Egypt doing this to us?” was a common question I heard, and I had many long discussions on the subject.

Despite the hardship caused by Israel’s wartime destruction of lives and property, as well as its land and sea blockade, Gazans tend to find Egypt’s blockade more emotionally painful because they view Egypt as a traditional and staunch ally. “We regard Egyptians as our brothers, and we share a long history together,” one older, secular Gazan told me. “But Egyptians now regard us as Muslim Brotherhood.”

“For most people, their only exit is the Rafah crossing,” the deputy foreign minister of Hamas, Ghazi Hamad, told me. “When Egypt closes it, the Gaza Strip becomes a giant prison. It’s like a cage.”

Photo: ©Khaled Diab

Photo: ©Khaled Diab

In Palestinian Rafah, from the rooftop of a destroyed building near the crossing, which has mostly been shut tight since Morsi’s ouster in July 2013, Egyptian Rafah – with its newly leveled “buffer zone” – is visible mockingly in the distance, with its broken promise of relief and escape. Meanwhile, the network of tunnels that had provided just such relief and escape, as well as contraband weapons, lies collapsed under the ground.

By coincidence, the Rafah crossing was open during my visit, but only for three days and only for those coming from Egypt into Gaza. Meanwhile, more than 15,000 people were registered on a Hamas waiting list to go abroad, including the sick and wounded, and those with work or family commitments abroad; thousands more wait in the wings. “We have wounded people who have died because they couldn’t get out from either Erez or Rafah to receive treatment,” Hamad told me told me. “You also have people who have lost their university placements.”

I met one of these academics, who returned to Gaza after last summer’s war to check on his family and take them with him to Malaysia, where he planned to complete his doctorate in English literature. “The plan was to spend two or three months in Gaza, but almost nine months later, I am stuck and can’t leave,” he told me at a beachside cafe, the frustration of limbo visible on his face. “If I had stayed, I could have finished my Ph.D. by now.”

“Egypt has to open Rafah, not as charity, but as a duty towards fellow human beings,” he added.

Beyond the humanitarian imperative, opening up Rafah has important geo-strategic benefits for Egypt. It is not in Egypt’s self-interest to have an island of suffering and seething frustration on the border of the already restive Sinai region. In 2008, hundreds of thousands of Gazans breached the wall and entered Sinai. That time, they went shopping and peacefully returned to their homes. With the multiplied level of destitution, next time something like this happens, they may refuse to return.

But Egypt shouldn’t view Gaza solely as a threat. Opportunities abound: Gaza’s presence on its doorstep can actually help reduce the restiveness in Sinai by giving residents of the economically challenged peninsula a nearby export market.

Moreover, though nearly 170 times the size of Gaza, the sparsely populated Sinai is home to a third of the Palestinian enclave’s population. An open economic area between the two could be a win-win for both sides.

____

Follow Khaled Diab on Twitter.

This is the extended version of an article which first appeared in Haaretz on 22 June 2015.

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A Riche chapter of Egyptian history

 
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By Khaled Diab

For a century, Café Riche was a microcosm of Cairo’s bewildering contradictions, and a “refuge from the pain of loneliness”  for intellectuals. 

Image: AUC Press

Image: AUC Press

Tuesday 10 June 2015

With the recent death of Café Riche’s proprietor, Magdy Abdel-Malak, downtown Cairo’s most famous intellectual salon has shut its doors once again – this time, possibly permanently. By so doing, it has gone from a place where significant chapters of Egypt’s modern political, intellectual, cultural and social history were written to become an iconic footnote in the country’s tumultuous modern history.

Though its dated glass-and-wood exterior is unremarkable to the 21st-century passer-by in the city of a thousand minarets and a café on every corner, Riche was at the throbbing heart of Egypt’s intellectual and political life for the greater part of the 20th century.

Riche dates back to what many Egyptians regard as Cairo’s belle époque. Built in 1908 on the grounds of a former royal palace, it started life as a modest coffee shop for the inner city’s wealthy and well-heeled European and elite Egyptian residents.

It gained its name when a Frenchman briefly took over the café’s proprietorship. Just as Khedive Ismail had intended his new European-style capital to be a “Paris on the Nile” – almost bankrupting Egypt in the process – Café Riche was modelled on its Parisian namesake.

Open from 1785 to 1915, the French Café Riche was frequented by some of Paris’s literary and intellectual giants, including legendary writers Alexandre Dumas and Émile Zola, of “J’accuse” fame.

Cairo’s Café Riche became a similar cultural and intellectual magnet when it was taken over by Greek-Egyptian Michelle Nicola Bolitez, who was a lover and patron of the arts. He set up a theatre there that soon become one of the most well-known performance spaces in town.

The Cairo in which Riche established its glory was a dizzying city of bewildering contrasts and contradictions. It was a grand European metropolis just down the river from the ancient native city. At once an inclusive multicultural melting pot, it largely excluded the local population who were forced to live by a separate set of laws. An elitist playground for pashas and the nobility, its streets teemed with high-born and minority socialist and nationalist revolutionaries, including a number who barely spoke Arabic. The city was also a space where the shoots of liberal democracy were kept from blossoming by the combined might of the palace and the British.

Café Riche was, in many ways, a microcosm of these different realities. While well-to-do customers enjoyed the singing skills of the likes of then-pro-royalist new talent Um Kalthoum  – who later became the legendary “Star of the Orient” – anti-British agitators printed pamphlets for the 1919 revolution in the café’s basement.

And its involvement in political intrigues did not end there. In 1919, a young medical student sat patiently in wait of prime minister Youssef  Wahba, who was a Riche regular, and as his car approached the young radical attempted but failed to assassinate him.

Back then, revolutionaries clashing with the British sometimes sought shelter inside Riche, which became a regular target of police raids. Nearly a century later, a different generation of revolutionaries, this time revolting against a native tyrant, also found refuge from the teargas-infused utopia of Tahrir Square.

It is reputed that Gamal Abdel-Nasser and his fellow Free Officers partly planned the 1952 revolution in Riche – though other downtown political cafes also claim that honour.

At first, the army’s coup gave a shot in the arm to Egypt’s native leftist and liberal intellectuals, revolutionaries and writers, including Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz, who held his literary court there for many years.

But these artists and intellectuals soon discovered that Egypt’s management had changed but its intolerance of free thought and dissent had not. Though remembered for his persecution of the Muslim Brotherhood, Nasser was no more tolerant of secularists who disagreed with him, and his political prisons overflowed with communists, non-Nasserist leftists and old-school Wafdist liberals.

Riche, like downtown Cairo, entered a period of long decline. Anwar al-Sadat, in his bid to neutralise Nasserist influence, cracked down hard on leftists and embraced the Islamists (a decision which was to cost him and Egypt dearly).

This deprived the café of a significant portion of its clientele and those that remained drew in on themselves, disillusioned that their high hopes for Egypt had fallen so low, as the state turned on them and a growing current in society turned away from them. With nowhere left to gather, secular youth either went underground or fell into the cynical arms of apathy, while others rushed into the comforting embrace of Islamist certitude.

This led to a period of intellectual and political navel-gazing in which Riche became the “whole world”, in the words of poet Naguib Sorour, for the dwindling ranks of its oft-hard-drinking punters, for whom Sorour drafted a tongue-in-cheek Protocols of the Wise Men of Riche.

Naguib Mahfouz’s introspective 1983 novel The Day the Leader was Killed is partly set in Café Riche – which is described as a “refuge from the pain of loneliness” – and explores, through the allegory of numerous narrative, the theme of where Egypt’s post-independence experiment went wrong.

Hosni Mubarak’s tenure drove the last nail into the esteemed establishment’s coffin. In 1990, Café Riche closed under mysterious circumstances and was seriously damaged by the 1992 earthquake.

At the birth of the new millennium, I attended its reopening a decade later, during an art festival designed to revive downtown’s downtrodden cultural scene. Colloquial poet of the working class Ahmed Fouad Negm, who seriously lost his way in his final years, was, as his name suggests, the star of the evening. The man who once expressed unbridled contempt for what he viewed as Riche’s fat-cat intellectuals was its guest of honour.

As if to show he still possessed his famed irreverence, he read from his poem ‘Long live the people of my country’ in which he ridiculed what he perceived as the empty rhetoric and detachment from reality of the Richesque, their impotence, and the ease and smugness with which they formulated glib solutions to the country’s woes.

Like Negm himself, the nouveau Riche was a poor imitation, even a parody of its former self. With its framed portraits of the lates and greats who frequented the establishment, it was like walking into a museum or a hall of fame and no longer a buzzing intellectual factory of the future.

At the time, I wondered in an article whether Riche would be able to resurrect its spirit and not just its ghost. Though it still managed to pull in some of the biggest names in Egypt’s intellectual scene, many found it had lost its touch and was far too elitist for Egypt’s more egalitarian young radicals.

Despite its rich history, or because of it, Riche managed to pull in far more tourists than members of the young and re-energised intelligentsia, apart from briefly during the revolution.

Unfortunate as it is in terms of Egypt’ cultural heritage, Riche’s closure will have only a marginal impact on downtown’s cultural scene. The young and creative have returned in droves in recent years, intent on reviving and reinventing Cairo’s heart. They have carved out their own alternative spaces, including art-houses, street art and even old-style tea houses and shisha joints which attract not just radical young men but rebellious young women.

____

Follow Khaled Diab on Twitter.

This article first appeared on Al Jazeera on 26 May 2015.

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The tip of Egypt’s snobbery iceberg

 
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By Khaled Diab

The replacement of one snobbish justice minister in Egypt with another who believes judges are lords and masters shows how deep elitism runs.

A_Group_of_Boys_at_Moqattam_Village_Dec_2009Wednesday 20 May 2015

Mahfouz Saber was certainly no minister of social justice. The now-former Egyptian justice minister said during a television debate that the judiciary was not a suitable career option for the offspring of rubbish collectors and other modest occupations because “a judge must hail from an appropriate environment”.

His remarks, which effectively marked millions of Egyptians as human refuse relegated to the dustbin of society, unleashed a wave of popular outrage across Egypt. “When the concept of justice is absent from the nation, nothing remains,” tweeted Egyptian Nobel laureate and former figurehead of the anti-Mubarak opposition Mohamed ElBaradei, who is himself a legal scholar.

Part of the outcry was due to the symbolic importance of Saber’s job, even if the judiciary does discriminate against women too. As justice minister, he must have been aware that his remarks conflicted with the guarantees of equal opportunities and the prohibition of discrimination based on class, religion, race or gender enshrined in Egypt’s constitution, not to mention the many international human rights treaties to which Egypt is a party.

In addition, for the millions of Egyptians who took to the streets during the revolution to demand “bread, freedom and social justice”, this was yet another rude slap in the face reflecting how little Egypt had changed in the meantime.

The blogger Mina Fayek saw the incident as “yet [more] proof that justice in Egypt is just a farce”. With Egypt’s increasingly politicised judges meting out once-unimaginably draconian rulings, including mass death sentences, it is hard to believe today that the judiciary was until very recently seen as one of the few (relatively) independent institutions and an important check on the executive’s excessive powers.

As calls for Saber’s resignation multiplied, the justice minister was persuaded to fall on his word, with Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab saying that the disgraced minister was leaving out of “respect for public opinion”.

Though this is a hugely important symbolic victory for the cause of equal opportunity in Egypt, Saber’s attitude is simply the tip of Egypt’s snobbery and nepotism iceberg. The opinion Saber voiced was more politically incorrect than factually incorrect – and not just in the judiciary. People applying for prestige posts, such as the diplomatic corps, are routinely vetted socially.

In fact, a number of activists recalled the tragic case of Abdel-Hameed Sheta who, even though he came first in the entry exam for the diplomatic corps and had proven himself repeatedly at university, was passed over because he was deemed “unsuitable socially.” After years of material sacrifice on the part of his impoverished parents and endless hard graft on his part, the shock proved too much for Sheta and he took his own life.

Some believe that nepotism also played a role. Whether or not it did in Sheta’s case, it certainly is rampant in Egypt, where the sons and daughters of the wealthy, well-positioned and powerful mysteriously always seem to land on their feet, even if it crushes other people’s toes.

That is why Egyptians have so many colloquial synonyms for nepotism and cronyism, including the famous Arab-wide expression “wasta” (“connections”) and “mahsoubiya” (“cronyism”), as well as the baffling “kousa” (“courgette”). Claims voiced by a leading judge have emerged that Saber himself got into the judiciary thanks to his father’s wealth and the good word of his uncle, a prominent judge.

This social reality is a far cry from the ideals espoused by two revolutions, in 1952 and 2011. The Free Officers were successful in abolishing the old feudal order and the monarchy, and their socialist-inspired coup brought about universal education, land reform and introduced the principle of egalitarianism.

However, it quickly became apparent that the old landed gentry were simply replaced by a new elite made up of army officers, who talked the talk of equality but walked a very different walk. With the neo-liberal reforms first introduced by Anwar al-Sadat and completed by Hosni Mubarak, the military top brass allowed a new business elite to join it at the high table, bringing Egypt full circle.

Throughout, and despite the lip service paid to equality, classism has survived in Egypt at most strata of society. This is reflected in how the old titles, such as Pasha and Bey, though robbed of any official weight, continue to be used with gay abandon by Egyptians wishing to express deference to people they see as their social betters.

It also lives on in such insulting descriptions as referring to someone as being “ibn/bent nas” (“son of people”), as if implying that others are the offspring of animals, or the lengths to which many Egyptian families go to ensure that their children marry someone of their class.

That said, there is social mobility in Egypt, as reflected in the (relatively) modest backgrounds of every single Egyptian leader since 1952, and the opportunities afforded many by universal education when it was still of a decent level.

However, many who do make it up the ladder, too often kick it away and many even downplay their own roots, as reflected, for example, in how almost anyone with an education or career, regardless of where they came from, adopts the Cairene accent of the well-to-do.

For a beautiful, fleeting moment in the Republic of Tahrir these class divisions were ignored and there was a conscious effort to erase them. Let’s hope the justice minister’s departure is a sign that Egyptians are rediscovering their appetite for social justice.

President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi swears in Ahmed al-Zind.

President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi swears in Ahmed al-Zind. Photo: Egyptian presidency

 

Unfortunately, the state has shown its own appetite to be lacking in this respect. In fact, in Egypt, justice has proven itself to be both blind to reason and deaf to protest. As if to slap down those who dared object, it was announced that Saber’s replacement would be Ahmed al-Zind, whom has been described as just as elitist “yet more extreme“. As a sign of this extremism, al-Zind said in a controversial 2014 television interview: “On the land of this homeland, we are the lords, and others are slaves.”

It is clear that al-Zind is no fitter to be justice minister than his predecessor. I think it’s time to start a campaign to demand the new minister’s resignation and ask that al-Zind be replaced by the son of a rubbish collector from al-Zabbaleen. Only then can we be certain that we will have a justice minister who cleans up garbage rather than spews it out.

____

Follow Khaled Diab on Twitter.

This is the updated version of an article which first appeared on Al Jazeera on 12 May 2015.

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Freedom of repression in Egypt

 
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By Khaled Diab

The Republic of Tahrir revolutionaries dreamt of an Egypt of freedom, but the only thing that seems free these days is the value of human dignity.

Saturday 10 January 2015

In December 2011, the glimmer of hope that would spark revolution across the Arab world was ignited in Tunisia with its jasmine-scented revolution. While Tunisians have managed to take advantage of the intervening four years to set in motion a process of rapid democratisation – including two sets of free elections (2011 and 2014), the drafting of a non-partisan constitution, not to mention the democratic and peacefaul transfer of power – other countries in the region have not been so fortunate.

The Tunisian path of consensus politics, which helped the country navigate some of the greatest hazards and perils of revolution in a largely peaceful manner, has been absent from Egypt, where each change in leadership came with a “winner takes all” confrontational and combative attitude.

As we approach the fourth anniversary of the Egyptian revolution, the high hopes of “bread, freedom and social justice” seem as far away as ever – some fear that they have moved impossibly out of reach.

In addition to the nose-diving economy, which has been kept afloat since 2011 through the largesse of the Gulf allies of the moment, this regression has been felt acutely and painfully in the area of freedom of expression, particularly the media.

While the revolutionaries of the Republic of Tahrir had dreamt briefly of an Egypt that would be a beacon of freedom, the only thing that seems free these days is the value of human dignity. The counterrevolution – which actually began with the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, when the regime amputated its head to keep its body intact – seems to be reaching an end goal of sorts, through a process of heavy-handed crackdowns and co-options.

In terms of repression, 2014 was a particularly harsh year, in which Egypt found itself in the uncoveted top 10 jailers of journalists. “Egypt more than doubled its number of journalists behind bars to at least 12, including three journalists from the international network Al Jazeera,” said the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), an independent NGO based in New York which has been dubbed “journalism’s Red Cross”.

Like Al Jazeera’s Baher Mohamed, Mohamed Fahmy and Peter Greste, many of the imprisoned journalists listed by CPJ are accused of having links or sympathies with the previous regime of Mohamed Morsi. These include members of the highly influential citizenship journalism site Rassd News Network (RNN), which is affiliated with or at least sympathetic to the now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.

RNN’s Mahmoud Abdel Nabi has been in jail the longest of the dozen reporters behind bars. He was arrested, in July 2013, while covering clashes between pro-military and pro-Morsi protesters in Sidi Beshr, Alexandria. He is accused of inciting violence and the possession of weapons.

The other RNN staff members in jail are Samhi Mustafa and Abdullah al-Fakharany,  who were indicted in February, along with dozens of others, for allegedly “forming an operations room to direct the Muslim Brotherhood to defy the government”.

Even for journalists without any alleged political allegiances, simply doing their jobs during the dispersal of the al-Raba’a and al-Nahda protest camps – which Human Rights Watch calculates led to the death of at least a thousand, including four journalists – could easily land them in jail.

This is exactly what happened to the freelance photojournalist Mahmoud Abou Zeid, a contributor to the UK-based citizen journalism site and photo agency Demotix, who was arrested in August 2013 while covering the dispersal, though the French photographer and Newsweek journalist he was with were later released.

Some reporters have fallen foul of the regressive and controversial anti-protest law passed in 2013. These include Ahmed Gamal, a photojournalist with the online news network Yaqeen, who was arrested on 28 December 2013 while covering student protests at al-Azhar University in Nasr City, Cairo. Ahmed Fouad of the local news website for Alexandria, Karmoz, who was arrested in January 2014 during pro-Muslim Brotherhood protests in Sidi Beshr.

Despite such incidents, the anti-protest law is intended primarily for protesters and dissidents, both of the Islamist and secular variety. In fact, some are convinced that this law criminalising dissent is part of a “targeted mission to eliminate the prominent revolutionary figures”. This political purge has targeted such leading revolutionary figures as the sibling duo, Alaa Abdel-Fattah, who is accused of not being a “true” revolutionary and of seeking the country’s “destruction”, and Mona Seif, who went on a hunger strike for 76 days to protest her brother’s incarceration.

The al-Sisi regime has also had reformists and human rights defenders in its crosshairs. These include Yara Sallam, a transitional justice officer at the independent Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), who was sentenced to three years at the end of October for allegedly participating in a political march. In December, this was reduced to two years.

EIPR and other NGOs in Egypt are threatened with closure due to the government’s insistence to apply the letter of a controversial 2002 law and even more regressive draft legislation.

But coercion is not the only tool the regime wields. It has also blended this with the co-option of high-profile voices. A number of prominent private television channels and TV personalities have weighed in behind Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi’s leadership.

This was on clear display during last summer’s war in Gaza. For example, the regime’s leading cheerleader, Tawfik Okasha, ridiculed Gazans for not being “men” because “if they were men they would revolt against Hamas,” he blasted.

Beyond the media, some lawyers have taken it as their personal mission to shut down free speech. A recent example was the law suit brought against the famous pro-revolutionary Egyptian actor Khaled Abol-Naga which accused him of “high treason” for daring to criticise President al-Sisi. The case has triggered a wave of anger and protest amongst artists.

Although “Sisimania” has cooled down considerably since the former general became president, there are still many patriotic readers who take any sleight to the leader personally, as reflected in the mirthless reactions of readers to the cartoons and caricatures of Mohamed Anwar.

To add insult to injury, the regime has co-opted the revolution itself and has appointed itself as its sole guardian and guarantor, as reflected in the presidential decree al-Sisi intends to issue which “criminalises insulting the 25 January and 30 June uprisings”.

The regime is also positioning itself as the self-appointed defender of public morality, as highlighted in the recent spate of arrests of alleged homosexuals, in spite of the fact that homosexuality is not actually illegal, as well as the arrest of people suspected of being atheists, despite their being no law in Egypt outlawing atheism, and the recent closure of what the media dubbed the “atheists’ café”.

Amid this onslaught on the media and the freedom of activists and citizens to express their political thoughts, it is easy to feel despair for Egypt’s future and its people’s aspirations for freedom, dignity and equality.

However, it is important to contextualise matters. Despite the devolution, Egypt at its worst is still freer and its people more openly defiant than just about everywhere in the Gulf at their best. For instance, Qatar’s domestic media does not enjoy freedom nor does it agitate for it, exercising a great deal of self-censorship.

Contrast that to Egypt where, despite all the crackdowns, arrests and intimidations, there are still independent voices who refuse to be cowed, coerced or co-opted. This is embodied in Egypt’s dynamic citizen journalism scene and its independent publications, such as Mada Masr.

Even private TV does not always sing from the government’s hymn sheet. A recent example of this was an ONtv programme exposing the ill-gotten gains of the mysterious billionaire Hussein Salem, who was recently acquitted of corruption charges alongside his patron, Hosni Mubarak.

Many activists and human rights defenders are still striving to fight the corner of freedom. The award-winning Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) has not taken the regime’s recent infringements lying down. It has issued numerous scathing reports on the subject, including one entitled “Has journalism become a crime in Egypt?”

Understandably, the ranks of the defiant are shrinking in Egypt, as many once-critical voices are silenced and an increasing number of journalists and activists take flight mostly out of despair, but also out of fear.

But this situation is not inevitable nor necessarily indefinite. Just as a generation of young idealists defied all odds and expectations to bring the regime to its knees, the spirit they set free may be suppressed for a time but it cannot be extinguished.

____

Follow Khaled Diab on Twitter.

This article first appeared in Al Jazeera on 28 December 2014.

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Egypt’s centuries-old leadership vacuum

 
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By Khaled Diab

Decades of authoritarianism and centuries of non-indigenous rule have led to a shortage of effective native leaders in Egypt, derailing the revolution.

Field Marshal Tantawi: Mubarak 2.0. Photo: ©Khaled Diab

Photo: ©Khaled Diab

Thursday 25 December 2014

Hosni Mubarak, the face which launched thousands of street protests, was cleared of ordering the killing of hundreds of protesters and numerous corruption charges related to his three decades on Egypt’s republican throne were also dropped.

The news of the ex-dictator’s acquittal has hit activists and pro-revolution Egyptians like a rude kick in the groin, leading to angry protests on campuses across the country. The man who symbolized everything that was wrong with Egypt in 2011 walked scot free under the auspices of the man who presides over everything that’s wrong with Egypt in 2014: Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi.

By walking free, Mubarak – who inadvertently gave birth to the Egyptian revolution when he stepped down – may harken the revolution’s death knell, at least for the time being.

Some believe the situation is even worse. Writing in the Washington Post, Eric Trager argued that “the ‘revolution’ didn’t die… a true revolution never happened in the first place.” Trager contends that the uprising in Egypt not only failed to bring about revolutionary change, a substantial percentage of the population did not desire it, wishing only for elusive “stability”.

What his assertion overlooks is that many revolutions fail to bring about the radical change they seek, such as the 1848 Spring of Nations revolutionary wave in Europe.

Moreover, if significant opposition is a yardstick, then many of the world’s most iconic revolutions would not qualify as such, including in America and France. Besides, if history is any indication it’s far too early to call the final outcome of the Egyptian revolution, since its French predecessor took generations before it achieved its goals of “liberté, egalité, fraternité”.

Despite Trager’s assertions, it is not apathy or the longing for stability that have foiled Egypt’s revolutionary aspirations.

In my view, it is a question of leadership and its accompanying political culture. On the one hand, there is the deep state which has robustly done everything within its power not to cede power. On the other, it is the leaderless nature of the revolution, which was a strength at first because it made it impossible for the state to control, but became a liability later when strong leadership was urgently required to give the popular uprising direction.

The immediate reason for this was Hosni Mubarak’s 30-odd years of autocratic rule, which deepened the state’s grip on power while eliminating viable alternative leaderships. This followed the preceding three decades of similar dictatorial rule, in the shape of Anwar al-Sadat and Gamal Abdel-Nasser before him.

Some interpret this as a manifestation of some kind of ancient Pharaoh complex on the part of Egyptian leaders. But this reductionist interpretation fails to explain why most of the region’s leadership is likewise deluded, even though their countries were not part of the Ancient Egyptian tradition of the absolute god-king.

Personally, I think Egypt and the Arab world’s leadership crisis can best be attributed to centuries of foreign rule and domination. This had the dual effect of destroying or downgrading the indigenous cadre of leaders and putting in place a damaging leadership culture.

In Egypt’s case, before Mohamed Naguib’s rise to power in 1952, one must go back nearly two and a half millennia to find Egypt’s last native leader: Nectanebo II, who was overthrown in 342BC by a combined Greek and Persian force.

Though Alexander the Great was regarded as a liberator from Persian rule in Egypt – and even the illegitimate son of Egypt’s last pharaoh – and the Ptolemaic dynasty regarded themselves as pharaohs, the Egyptian political and social order was stacked in favor of ethnic Greeks and a Greek-speaking Egyptian elite, leading to numerous rebellions, including the “great revolt” of 205-186 BC.

In the two millennia since the death of the last Ptolemaic pharaoh, the legendary Cleopatra VII, Egypt’s fortunes have waxed and waned. Roman rule retained the relative privilege of Egyptian Greeks while adding another layer of exploitation, transforming this fertile, rich country into Rome’s grain silo.

Even when Egypt went from being a province to being an independent imperial power, these Nile-based empires were invariably foreign ones in which the locals were marginalized and largely excluded from the corridors of power. This was the case with the mighty and largely religiously tolerant Fatimid caliphate, which established glittering Cairo near ancient Memphis in the tenth century.

The Mamluk era (1250–1517) saw the novel situation of Egypt being ruled by a caste of warrior slaves. Though Egypt thrived economically and culturally, the centuries of Mamluk rule witnessed chaotic and bloody transitions of power between competing pretenders. Despite the infighting, the Mamluks agreed on one thing: though ostensibly slaves, they were the “true lords” while the supposedly freeborn native Egyptians were their serfs.

When the Ottomans conquered Egypt, they retained the Mamluks as their vassals which, like the Roman era, doubled the tax burden on the Egyptian masses, with a share going towards subsiding the ruling elite’s lavish lifestyles and a share going to Constantinople.

In the early 19th century, Egypt was purged of its Mamluks by a commander in the Ottoman Empire who wanted the country all to himself: Muhammad Ali, who had officially come to reclaim Egypt for the Sultan after Napoleon’s short-lived and disastrous occupation.

Despite being Albanian, Ali is widely regarded as being the father of modern Egypt. Wishing to create a modern state along European lines, he realised the importance of harnessing, educating and empowering (somewhat) the native Egyptian population.

Ali not only developed an advanced industrial base for the country, he also built a modern army, bureaucracy and education system where Egyptian citizens could find opportunities for mobility beyond the farming and industry to which they were previously confined.

But Ali retained the Mamluks fixation on militarism and he was obsessed with building a European-style army to carve out an empire for his dynasty. This placed a huge burden on Egypt’s peasantry in the form of high taxation and conscription.

Given the centuries of militarism of the ruling foreign elites and how the army had become one of the few means of social mobility for the native population, it is no surprise that Egypt’s first modern nationalist leader with any real authority was an army officer, Ahmed Urabi.

Urabi’s rebellion against the vassal Khedive Tawfiq, which threatened Anglo-French interests, led the British to formally occupy Egypt, though they kept the Muhammad Ali dynasty in power as clients. Following the heavy burden placed on Egypt during World War I, opposition to British rule grew massively, leading to the 1919 revolution.

The revolution succeeded in gaining only partial independence for Egypt and resulted in a liberal, democratic parliament, though one that was largely toothless due to the combined influence of the palace and the British.

The seething dissatisfaction with this arrangement led to widespread protests following World War II, but it was only the army that proved to have the clout to dislodge the king and the waning British.

But rather than hand over power to an elected parliament as the Free Officers had promised after an initial transition, the lure of power proved too irresistible. Although Egypt’s new rulers were native Egyptians, rather than dismantle the centuries of imperial legacy hobbling their fellow citizens, they kept in place many of the timeworn instruments of repression and marginalisation, despite some reforms.

Like Egypt’s various foreign rulers, the new officer elite viewed with suspicion any contenders or opponents, crushing and suppressing rivals. Hosni Mubarak went so far as not even to appoint a vice-president.

This centuries-long legacy helped lead to the leaderless revolution of 2011. This does not mean that Egypt is void of talent that can govern the country fairly and effectively. There is plenty of that. However, Egypt’s political culture does not encourage this talent to rise and there are no mechanisms for the peaceful and smooth transfer of power.

____

Follow Khaled Diab on Twitter.

This is an extended version of an article which first appeared in Haaretz on 10 December 2014.

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Save the Nile Delta, President al-Sisi

 
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By Khaled Diab

Egypt would be much better off saving the sinking ship of the Nile Delta instead of building a white elephant Suez Canal II.

Save the Nile Delta. Image: NASA

Save the Nile Delta. Image: NASA

Thursday 18 September 2014

Egyptian presidents have long been fond of symbolic mega-projects. In addition to the practical benefits they were expected to perform, these show-pieces had the dual purpose of demonstrating how apparently visionary the dictator of the moment was, his patriotism and benign influence, as well as a tool for cobbling together a semblance of national unity and purpose.

Gamal Abdel-Nasser had the Aswan High Dam, which was intended to electrify the public towards his ambitious Arab socialist development programme. However, disagreement over financing prompted him, in 1956, to nationalise the Suez Canal to pay for the dam, leading to war with Britain, France and Israel. Anwar al-Sadat’s mega-project was to cross the Suez Canal militarily to regain the Sinai territory Egypt lost to Israel in 1967, and defeat not only Egypt’s neighbouring enemy but also to silence his domestic ones.

Hosni Mubarak had his Toshka project which was meant to create a new Nile Valley to absorb some of the country’s runaway population growth and the alarming loss of arable land to urban development. Toskha would achieve this by diverting water from Lake Nasser into the desert with the aim of expanding Egypt’s agricultural acerage by 10%. Despite its noble ambitions, “Mubarak’s pyramid”, as this largely aborted super mega-project was described, has only delivered a molehill due to mismanagement and poor planning.

Only a few months into his presidency, Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi has already broken ground on his own mega-project, billed not as the new Nile Valley but as the new Suez Canal. While Nasser nationalised the Suez Canal and Sadat’s army crossed it, Sisi’s ambition is to expand the waterway by building a second, 72km-long channel that is expected to boost the traffic passing through Suez. The project also fits into the government’s ambition to transform the Suez region into an industrial, technological and international trading hub.

But this poorly conceived project is already smashing against the rocks of unexpected problems. On a fundamental level, some experts wonder whether the extension will actually boost the Canal’s capacity, since more than 90km of the waterway will remain single-carriage. In addition, there may simply not been enough additional demand from shipping to justify the new investment.

On top of that, the project has already run into expensive technical complications. Ignoring warnings by irrigation experts, the digging began too close to the original Canal which has caused the site to fill with groundwater. Pumping the excess water out carries a price tag of $1 million per day.

It is my view that, rather than yet another white elephant mega-project, Egypt would be much better off diverting the estimated $8.4 billion it will cost to build Suez Canal II to another, far more pressing mega-project: Nile Delta I.

Since ancient times, the Nile Delta, which covers 25,000 square kilometres and houses nearly half of Egypt’s population, has been the national breadbasket but also that of various empires. Yet this extremely fertile fan of land in the middle of the desert is under serious threat from a two-pronged attack: rising sea levels caused by global warming and sinking sediment due to the silt being blocked upstream by the Aswan High Dam.

The Delta is quite literally sinking into the sea, but few officials seem unduly alarmed by this impending shipwreck. Despite the economic, social and national security implications of this catastrophe-in-the-making, no Egyptian government has taken any substantial action to beat back this erosion, aside from constructing a few measly dykes and barriers to protect important urban areas on the coast.

This is doubly surprising in light of the decades of forewarnings provided by both local and international experts. For example, more than a quarter of a century ago, researchers at the Smithsonian Institute delivered dire warnings about future disaster.

Today, the alarm amongst experts has reached fever pitch. “The total [area of the Delta] expected to be impacted by a rising of the sea level by one metre during this century will be 8,033 square kilometres, which is nearly 33% of the total area of the Nile Delta,” predicted Khaled Ouda, a geologist at Egypt’s Assiut University, in an interview with Al Jazeera earlier this year.

In addition to the loss of precious agricultural land, this would turn millions of people in one of the most densely populated places on Earth climate refugees.

Given that rising sea levels and a sinking delta would redraw Egypt’s natural map more radically than ISIS has redrawn Iraq and Syria’s political one, the price of averting this disaster is surprisingly low – less than half al-Sisi’s Suez Canal project.

A plan proposed by Egyptian engineer Mamdouh Hamza involves the construction of a concrete wall along the Delta’s entire coastline and skirting it with a plastic diaphragm to prevent saltwater seepage. Total estimated cost: just $3 billion. The remaining billions can be invested in building impenetrable barriers several metres below sea level to hold the crumbling Delta in place and avoid sea water salinating the Delta’s aquifer.

Beyond these emergency measures, Egypt needs innovative solutions to replenish the Nile Delta through restoring the flow of natural silt, which not only protects against sea erosion but also acts as a powerful natural fertiliser. But this is more easily said than done, since the silt is sitting at the bottom of Lake Nasser a thousand kilometres downstream.

Inaction on these fronts will make the fallout from the revolutions and counterrevolutions that have gripped Egypt since 2011 seem like a minor distraction. Failing to protect the gift that is the Delta will turn the Nile into a curse for Egypt.

____

Follow Khaled Diab on Twitter.

This article first appeared in The National on 8 September 2014.

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لماذا لا يدان الفساد في مصر؟

 
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بقلم أسامه دياب

قصص من أروقة العدالة المصرية تشرح لنا كيف يمنح القانون المصري الحصانة للفاسدين.

الثلاثاء 10 يونيو 2014

في يوم من أيام شهر يناير 2009، ذهب وهبة عيسى أمين عام وزارة البترول إلى القصر الجمهوري ليسلم اللواء مصطفى شاهين، سكرتير الرئيس السابق، لفافة أرسلها له وزير البترول السابق سامح فهمي ليرسلها إلى الرئيس السابق محمد حسني مبارك، حسب تحقيقات النيابة مع مبارك في الجناية رقم 3642 لسنة 2011. بعدما تسلم اللواء مصطفى شاهين اللفافة طلب من فوزي شاكر مقار تسليمها لمبارك وتوجه معه في السيارة وسلم اللفافة حال وصوله للمقر، وفقا للتحقيقات مع مقار.

كان باللفافة سبيكة ذهب وزنها 5.5 كيلوجرام بحيث تكون قيمتها وفقا لأسعار الذهب الحالية حوالي مليون وستمائة ألف جنيه مصري. ظلت السبيكة في مسكن مبارك منذ يناير 2009 حتى التاسع من مايو 2011 أي بعد أربعة أشهر من اندلاع ثورة يناير 2011، و بعد القاء القبض على مبارك وتوجيه تهم له بالكسب غير المشروع، تبرع حينها بالسبيكة الذهب لمتحف هدايا رئيس الجمهورية في قصر عابدين بعد إحتفاظه بالسبيكة في منزله الخاص لمدة تزيد عن عامان، حسب أقواله في تحقيقات النيابة.

“هو ممكن يكون سلمنى اللفافة ولم أفتحها وتركتها ونسيتها،” جاء رد مبارك في تحقيقات النيابة عند مواجهته بالأمر.

وأضاف مبارك: “أنا لم أفتحها ونسيت أن أقوم بإيداعها بالمتحف كالمعتاد مع كل الهدايا التي تقدم إلي في الرئاسة … أنا أخذتها على البيت لغاية لما أتأكد هي إيه بالضبط عشان كدة لم أتركها بمقر الرئاسة واللي حصل إن أنا لم أشاهدها ونسيتها.”

قامت مدى مصر بزيارة متحف رئيس الجمهورية في قصر عابدين للاطلاع على السبيكة لكن لم تكن السبيكة معروضة.

هذه السبيكة هي أول انتاج لمنجم السكري للذهب في جنوب مصر وهو أحد أكبر مناجم الذهب في العالم والذي بدأ الإنتاج به عام 2009 ويتم استخراج الذهب منه من قبل وزارة البترول والثروة المعدنية وشركة سنتامين الأسترالية الذي يرأس مجلس إدارتها رجل الأعمال الأسترالي من أصل مصري جوزيف الراغي.

الشخص الذي قام بإرسال اللفافة هو سامح فهمي وزير البترول الأسبق والمتهم في العديد من قضايا الفساد. تولى سامح حقيبة وزارة البترول في 10 أكتوبر 1999 وحتى إندلاع ثورة يناير لمدة إثنى عشر عاما وهو من أكثر الوزراء الذين استمروا في منصبهم في عهد مبارك بجانب وزير الثقافة فاروق حسني (24 عاما)  والمشير حسين طنطاوي وزير الدفاع الأسبق (21 عاما) وصفوت الشريف في وزارة الإعلام (22 عاما) وحبيب العادلي وزير الداخلية الأسبق (14 عاما).

شهدت فترة قيادة فهمي لقطاع البترول والطاقة المصري تطورات كثيرة وقضايا فساد عديدة وأنتهت فترته ببداية أزمة حادة في الطاقة شعر بها جميع المصريين في شكل انقطاعات يومية للتيار الكهربائي.

وجزء من سبب أزمة الكهرباء التي تعيشها مصر حاليا هو نقص الغاز الطبيعي والذي تنبئت الحكومة بأن الطلب عليه سيتخطى المتاح من الإنتاج المحلي، وقد بدأت مفاوضات تصدير الغاز السرية والمثيرة للجدل للأردن وأسبانيا وإسرائيل مع تولي سامح فهمي حقيبة الوزارة.

ووفقا لعبد الخالق عياد، رئيس مجلس إدارة الهيئة العامة للبترول سابقا، تقدم رجل الأعمال الهارب المدان في قضايا فساد حسين سالم في أبريل 2000-أي بعد ستة أشهر من تولي سامح فهمي مسئولية وزارة البترول-بطلب لفهمي لشراء كميات من الغاز الطبيعي بغرض تصديره لتركيا واسرائيل مقابل مبلغ دولار ونصف لكل مليون وحدة حرارية بريطانية مع تثبيت السعر خلال فترة التعاقد.

ووفقا لمحمد كامل العيسوي، وكيل أول وزارة البترول لشئون الغاز سابقا، فقد تم تكليفه بإعداد دراسة سعرية لتقدير قيمة تكلفة إنتاج الغاز الطبيعي وتحديد الشروط التعاقدية مع شركة حسين سالم، وجاءت الدراسة بأن تكلفة إنتاج مليون وحدة حرارية بريطانية وقتها واحد ونصف دولار وتم عرض الدراسة على اللجنة العليا للغاز التي يرأسها سامح فهمي.

لكن من الواضح أن سامح فهمي لم يعجب بهذا العرض، وفي نفس اليوم الذي تقدمت فيه شركة غاز شرق المتوسط بطلب جديد تضمن تعديل السعر إلى 75 سنتا وهو نصف تكلفة الإنتاج وفقا لتقرير محمد كامل العيسوي، قام فهمي بتكليف حسن محمد عقل نائب رئيس الهيئة العامة للبترول للإنتاج سابقا وإسماعيل كرارة نائب رئيس الهيئة العامة للبترول للتخطيط بإعداد مذكرة أخرى يخصم من تكلفة إنتاج الغاز عن طريق استبعاد قيمة الرسوم والضرائب التي تدفعها الهيئة واستبعاد تكلفة استخراج الغاز من حقل غرب الدلتا العميق ومرتفع التكلفة مما أدى إلى خفض تكلفة الإنتاج إلى 68 سنتا مع العلم بأن الغاز الروسي-وهو من أرخص أنواع الغاز- كان ثمنه يتراوح بين 1.99 و2.51 دولار آنذاك، وفقا لأمر الإحالة في القضية المعروفة إعلاميا بتصدير الغاز إلى إسرائيل. المذكرة الثانية التي تشتمل على التسعير البخس هي التي لاقت نصيبها من الحظ وهي التي قدمها سامح فهمي إلى مجلس الوزراء في إجتماعه بتاريخ 18/9/2000 وتم الموافقة عليها. وتم التعاقد على نفس هذه الأسعار بدون زيادة بعد خمس سنوات في 13/6/2005 مع شركة غاز شرق المتوسط لصاحبها حسين سالم بغرض تصديره لإسرائيل.

وقال رمزي حلبي الخبير الاقتصادي بجامعة تل أبيب في لقاء مع قناة روسيا اليوم بتاريخ 26/2/2011 أي بعد نحو إسبوعين من الإطاحة بمبارك: “إسرائيل تستورد حوالي 4 مليارات دولار من الغاز المصري سنويا <…> على المدى القصير. هناك تأثير سلبي لعدم ضخ الغاز المصري إلى إسرائيل <…> هناك بديل من عدة دول في الغاز بشكل سائل لكن أيضا لازم نعرف إنه في العشر سنوات الأخيرة الاستيراد من مصر يوفر على الاقتصاد الإسرائيلي 10 مليار دولار. أولا الأسعار متدنية جدا اللي بتاخدها إسرائيل من مصر. ثانيا هي ترغم باقي الشركات المنافسة على خفض أسعارها.” (رابط)

وكان حسين سالم الذي يملك حصة 70% آنذاك من شركة غاز شرق المتوسط يعمل مع سامح فهمي في مصفاة ميدور قبل توليه لوزارة البترول في عام 1999. ولم يكن لشركة غاز شرق المتوسط دور يذكر في عملية بيع الغاز إلى إسرائيل إلا شراءه من الشركة القابضة للغازات والهيئة العامة للبترول ب 0.75-1.25 دولار وبيعه لإسرائيل ب 2.25 دولار، وفقا لأقوال رئيس المخابرات العامة ونائب رئيس الجمهورية السابق عمر سليمان في تحقيقات النيابة في قضية تصدير الغاز لإسرائيل.

وفقا لعمر سليمان قام سالم بتأسيس شركة الغاز التي ربحت المليارات جراء تصدير الغاز بسعر بخس إلى إسرائيل بتكليف من رئيس الجمهورية الأسبق “لسابق خبرته في التعامل مع الإسرائيليين في مشروع مصفا ميدور”.

ولكن قد يكون هناك سبب آخر وراء إختيار مبارك لسالم للاستحواذ هذه الصفقة المربحة لشركته ولكن المكلفة لخزينة الدولة، وهي الصداقة التي تربطه بمبارك والتي ارتبطت بتقديم العطايا. تجلت هذه الصداقة في بيع حسين سالم خمس فيلات في شرم الشيخ لمبارك ونجليه بسعر شديد الرمزية في نفس العام الذي بدأت فيه مفاوضات بيع الغاز لإسرائيل، فالفيللا التي قضى مبارك بها أغلب وقته في سنوات حكمه الأخيرة وشهور قليلة ما بعد الثورة حتى لحظة القبض عليه تم “شراؤها” من شركة نعمة جولف بسعر أقل كثيرا من قيمتها السوقية. تقع الفيلا الرئيسية المملوكة لحسني مبارك على مساحة تزيد عن 15 ألف متر مربع (حوالي 4 فدادين) في موقع متميز في محافظة جنوب سيناء في مدينة شرم الشيخ السياحية بجوار الفندق الشهير المملوك لحسين سالم هناك.

وفقا لتقرير الخبير الهندسي الذي قامت به إدارة الكسب غير المشروع لتقدير قيمة تلك الفيللات والذي تقدمت به للمكتب الفني للنائب العام، فالخمس عقود مشهرة رقم  293 و 294  و295 و296 و297 جميهما بتاريخ 14/10/2000 نظير 500 ألف جنيه و400 ألف جنيه و400 ألف جنيه و300 ألف جنيه و300 ألف جنيه “دفعت نقدا بالكامل ليد البائع من المشتري”. وإذا نظرنا للفيلا الخاصة بالرئيس السابق نجد أن متوسط سعر المتر كان 31 جنيه مصري فقط، ومتوسط سعر المتر لإجمالي مساحة الخمس فيللات البالغة 22435 متر مربع كان 84 جنيه مصري.

وفقا لذات التقرير الذي يقارن سعر هذه الوحدات بمثيلاتها التي بيعت بعد فيللات عائلة مبارك بشهرين، قامت شركة نعمة جولف للاستثمار السياحي ببيع 23 فيللا على مساحة 21،000 متر (أي أقل من مساحة فيللات عائلة مبارك) مربع بعقد مشهر رقم 362 جنوب سيناء بتاريخ 17/12/2000 بمبلغ 35،650،000  أي بمتوسط سعر للمتر المربع 1697 جنيه مصري أي حوالي 54 ضعف الثمن الذي حصل عليه مبارك.

وجاء بنص التقرير الخبير الهندسي: بمراعاة تاريخ إنشاء الفيللات محل الفحص ونوعية التشطيبات بها وموقعها فـإننا نقدر سعر متر للفيلات أرقام 1 و2 و3 3000 جنيه/م2 وللفيلا رقم 4 بمبلغ 2000/م2 والفيلا رقم 5 بواقع مبلغ 1200 جنيه/م2 وسعر المباني شامل سعر تكاليف انشاءات حمامات السباحة الخاصة بها.” وقدر التقرير مجموع قيمة المباني الحاصل عليها عائلة مبارك من حسين سالم “سبعة وثلاثون مليونا وستمائة وتسعين وثمانون ألفا وخمسمائة جنيه وهذا بخلاف أعمال اللاندسكيب والتشجير والأعمال الكهربائية والميكانيكية لحمامات السباحة وأعمال الانشاءات المستجدة التي لم تتم حتى الآن. وعليه سعر الفيلات الثابت بالعقود لا يتناسب مع القيم السوقية وقت الشراء.”

ووجه المحقق موجها سؤاله لمبارك: “ما قولك فيما ورد بمحضر تحريات مباحث الأموال العامة من أن ثمن شراء الفيلات الخاصة بكم من شركة حسين سالم لا يتناسب مع ثمن المثل فى وقت الشراء، وأنه يقل كثيرًا عن الثمن المناسب، وأنه ثبت من الاطلاع على عقود شراء شركة المهندسون المصريون للاستثمار العقارى شراؤها لعدد من الفيلات بمساحة 750 مترًا للواحدة فى أماكن أقل تميزًا بمبلغ يتراوح بين مليون جنيه و300 ألف جنيه إلى مليون وتسعمائة ألف جنيه؟”

مبارك: معرفش

لماذا لم يدان المتهمين؟ انقضاء الدعوى الجنائية بالتقادم أو بالتصالح

 كانت قد وجهت المحكمة إنهام لمبارك ونجليه  تهم استعمال نفوذ وقبول عطية ووجهت لسالم تهمة تقديم عطية في القضية المعروفة إعلاميا “بمحاكمة القرن”. المحكمة في حكمها الأولي الصادر في يونيو 2012 لم تنكر وقوع الجرم ولكنها قضت بانقضاء الدعوى الجنائية لمرور عشرة أعوام على وقوع الجريمة وهي فترة التقادم في الجنايات حسب المادة 15 من قانون العقوبات التي تنص على: “تنقضى الدعوى الجنائية فى مواد الجنايات  لمضى عشر سنين من بوم وقوع الجريمة وفى مواد الجنح بمضى ثلاث سنين  وفى مواد المخالفات بمضى سنة مالم ينص القانون على خلاف ذلك.”

وتصف منظمة الشفافية الدولية اسقاط تهم الفساد بالتقادم بإنه “عد تنازلي نحو الإفلات من العقاب” وتقترح عدة إجراءات أهمها المرونة في تحديد مدة التقادم في الوظائف التي تمنح أي نوع من أنواع الحصانة وقت ارتكاب الجريمة، ويكون التساؤل المشروع هنا، هل كان هناك إمكانية لكشف هذه الواقعة وإجراء التحقيقات قبل إنتهاء مدة التقادم والرئيس مبارك مازال في الحكم؟

ومن لم يفلت من العقاب بقانون الإجراءات الجنائية يستطيع الإفلات بقانون ضمانات وحوافز الاستثمار الذي يجيز التصالح مع المستثمر المعتدي على المال العام في مادته السابعة مكرر التي تنص على: “يجوز التصالح مع المستثمر في الجرائم المنصوص عليها في الباب الرابع من الكتاب الثاني من قانون العقوبات التي ترتكب منه بصفته أو بشخصه أو التي اشترك في ارتكابها … ويترتب على تمام التصالح وفقا لما سبق انقضاء الدعوى الجنائية بالنسبة للمستثمر”. ورحبت فعلا حكومة حازم الببلاوي بعرض التصالح الذي قدمه أحد الأركان الأخرى في القضية وهو حسين سالم، الذي تم الحكم عليه غيابيا بالسجن 15 سنة في قضية تصدير الغاز إلى إسرائيل بسبب هروبه إلى أسبانيا خلال الثورة مستغلا جنسيته الأسبانية (رابط)، أما سامح فهمي فما تزال محاكمته جارية بعدما قضت محكمة النقض بإعادة محاكمته بعد إدانته في قضية تصدير الغاز لإسرائيل.

رئيس الهيئة والوزير والمستثمر: نفس الشخص

في يوم الأربعاء الموافق 23/8/2006 قام أحمد المغربي رئيس هيئة المجتمعات العمرانية الجديدة وهو نفسه وزير الإسكان وشريك أساسي في شركة بالم هيلز بتحرير عقد بيع إبتدائي مع إبن خالته وشريكه في شركة بالم هيلز للتعمير ياسين منصور بحيث يبيع المغربي ممثلا عن هيئة المجتمعات العمرانية أرض مساحتها ما يقرب من مليون متر مربع في القاهرة الجديدة بثمن قدره 241 مليون جنيه مصري، أي بنحو 250 جنيه للمتر المربع لإبن خالته وشريكه رجل الأعمال الهارب ياسين منصور. وأصبحت قطعة الأرض تلك فيما بعد منتجع بالم هيلز القطامية الفاخر. ووفقا لتقرير أصدره المركز المصري للحقوق الاقتصادية والاجتماعية عن هذه القضية، فإن ثمن المتر وفقا لهيئة مفوضي الدولة وصل إلى 4000 جنيه مصري في هذه المنطقة في ذلك الوقت مما تسبب في إهدار ثلاثة مليارات و622 مليون و500 ألف جنيه مصري.

وجاء تعليق محكمة القضاء الإداري على تخصيص هذه الأرض المملوكة للدولة بالأمر المباشر في حكمها ببطلان العقد أن “التصرف في الأرض محل النزاع بالأمر المباشر يكون قد جاء في غير الأحوال المرخص بها قانونا، ومتجاوزا أحكام القانون، وبعيدا عن سلطة الجهة الإدارية المتعاقدة المقررة قانونا مما لا مناص معه من القضاء ببطلان العقد محل النزاع، سيما وأن الأوراق أظهرت قيام المدعي عليها بإجراء مزادات لبيع أراضي تملكها في ذات المنطقة التي تقع بها الأرض محل النزاع وفي مناطق أخرى وحصلت من خلالها على أعلى الأسعار المطروحة في المزاد، وأن تصالحها بالأمر المباشر في الأرض محل النزاع حرم الدولة من أموال طائلة من سعر الأرض كان ممكن الإفادة بها في تحقيق التوازن الإجتماعي وخلق فرص عمل للشباب.”

ووفقا لوثيقة صادرة من جهاز الكسب غير المشروع حصلت عليها <<مدى مصر>> ، كان علاء مبارك شريك في شركة بالم هيلز للتعمير بنحة 33 مليون سهم بقيمة إسمية حوالي 66 مليون جنيه ونسبة 3.12% من رأسمالها وإمتلك علاء مبارك أيضا حصة تقدر ب3,12% من شركة بالم هيلز للشرق الأوسط والاستثمار العقاري، حسب الوثيقة.

وقت وقوع هذه المخالفات وهذا التعارض الصارخ في المصالح بين واجبات المغربي العامة كمسئول في الدولة ومصلحته الخاصة كشريك في “بالم هيلز”، لم يكن قد صدر بعد قانون ينظم مسألة حظر تعارض مصالح المسئولين في الدولة وهو الذي كان سيعرض حال وجوده حينها المغربي للحبس والغرامة ولكنه كعادة الأشياء جاء متأخرا ولم يترك باب قانوني إلا الطعن على العقد إداريا أمام القضاء الإداري.

وينص قانون حظر تعارض مصالح المسئولين في الدولة الذي مررته حكومة الببلاوي الانتقالية على العقاب “بالحبس أو الغرامة التي لا تقل عن العائد الذي تحقق ولا تزيد على ضعفه أو بإحدى هاتين العقوبتين، كل من خالف أحكام هذا القانون.” ومن أحكام هذا القانون إنه “يكون التعارض مطلقا إذا كانت ملكية الأسهم والحصص في شركات خاضعة لرقابة المسئول الحكومي أو تابعة له بشكل مباشر أو غير مباشر، وفي هذه الحالة يتعين عليه التصرف في ملكيته خلال مدة الشهرين المشار إليهما أو ترك المنصب أو الوظيفة العامة.

وتعرف منظمة التعاون الاقتصادي والتنمية (OECD)  تعارض مصالح المسئولين العموميين على إنه تعارض بين الواجبات العامة والمصالح الخاصة لدى الموظفين العموميين، حيث يكون للموظف العام مصالح خاصة قد تؤثر على أداءه لواجباته ومسئوليته العامة.

وتؤكد اتفاقية الأمم المتحدة لمكافحة الفساد-المصدقة عليها مصر-على ذات المبادئ وتلزم الدول الموقعة والمصدقة على الاتفاقية باتخاذ ما يلزم من تدابير مختلفة لتعزيز وترسيخ وتفعيل هذه المبادئ. وتوصي الاتفاقية في مادتها السابعة على ضرورة سعي كل دولة طرف “إلى اعتماد وترسيخ وتدعيم نظم تعزز الشفافية وتمنع تضارب المصالح.”

وتوصي ذات الاتفاقية في مادتها الثامنة على سعي كل دولة طرف إلى “وضع تدابير و ونظم تلزم الموظفين العموميين بأن يفصحوا للسلطات المعنية عن أشياء تتضمن ما لهم من أنشطة خارجية وعمل وظيفي واستثمارات وموجودات وهبات أو منافع كبيرة قد تفضي إلي تضارب في المصالح مع مهامهم كموظفين عموميين.”

وتلزم أيضا الاتفاقية في مادتها الثانية عشر الدول المصدقة على ” ترويج استخدام الممارسات التجارية الحسنة بين المنشآت التجارية وفي العلاقات التعاقدية بين تلك المنشآت والدولة”

أروقة العدالة في مصر بها قصاصات لحكاوي فساد قد تملأ غرفا بل ومباني كاملة، وهذه ليست محاولة لحصر قضايا الفسادلإستحالة الفعل بسبب كثرتها بل لإلقاء الضوء على بعض أسباب صعوبة إدانة الفساد في مصر رغم تفشيه عن طريق النظر لنماذج لبعض حالات الفساد الصريح التي لم تتحقق فيها العدالة بسبب سرية العقود واسقاط تهم الفساد بالتقادم وعدم وجود اتفاقيات تبادل متهمين، وغياب آليات لمنع تعارض المصالح، وحتى في حالة تحقق العدالة يمنح القانون فرصة شراء البراءة بمبالغ زهيدة فيما يعرف بالتصالح وغيرها من الثغرات القانونية التي دائما ما تأتي في لصالح المتهم بالفساد. حتى يومنا هذا لم يتم إدانة شخص واحد من رموز مبارك في قضية فساد بحكم حضوري  وتراوحت الأحكام الصادرة بين البراءة وإعادة المحاكمة بعد الإدانة بحكم اولي، أو إنهاء القضية بالتصالح.

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A shorter version of this article first appeared on Mada Masr on 30 May 2014. 

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بقلم اسامة دياب ومحمد الشيوي

يجب تطوير تصور العدالة الاانتقالية ليشمل الجرائم الاقتصادية لان فساد نظام مبارك لا ينفصل عن ممارسات أخرى كانتهاكات حقوق الإنسان وتزوير إرادة الناخبين.

الجمعة 11 ابريل 2014

كثُر الحديث في الآونة الأخيرة عن التصالح مع رموز النظام السابق، ويستند مؤيدو التصالح مع رموز نظام مبارك إلى أن هذه هي أسرع الطرق للحصول على بعض من الأموال المنهوبة بدلا من اللجوء إلى عملية قضائية مرهقة وطويلة خصيصا في ظل الأزمة المالية التي تمر بها مصر وتتجلى في الانخفاض الشديد في احتياطي النقد الأجنبي، وزيادة العجز في الميزانية بالإضافة إلى بطء معدلات النمو.

اتفقت الحكومات المتعاقبة منذ ثورة الخامس والعشرين من يناير على أهمية التصالح كمخرج لأزمتنا الاقتصادية، وكان قد شدد حسن مالك رجل الأعمال الإخواني ورئيس مجلس إدارة الجمعية المصرية لتنمية الأعمال “ابدأ” في حديث لصحيفة الأهرام بتاريخ ٢٠١٣/٥/١٣ على أهمية التصالح مع رموز النظام السابق  للدفع بعجلة الاقتصاد وإعادة الأموال المهربة، وطرح مبادرته للتصالح كعلاج لأزماتنا الاقتصادية والاجتماعية.

وعبر أيضا تحالف ما بعد ٣٠ يونيو المعادي للإخوان على أهمية التصالح كضرورة اقتصادية واجتماعية ودليل على إن مصر مفتوحة “للجميع”، بعدما أكد هاني صلاح، المتحدث الرسمي باسم مجلس الوزراء في حكومة حازم الببلاوي على أن أي فرد يطرح مبادرة شريفة، لا يسعهم إلا أن يستمعوا إليه “من أجل بلادنا الحبيبة” وأن مصر بعد ٣٠ يونيو مفتوحة على الخارج والقضاء نزيه وشامخ والحكومة تتقبل أي مبادرات مصالحة.

ولكن هل هي حقا كذلك، وهل فعلا يحمل التصالح في طياته العلاج السحري لأزماتنا السياسية والاجتماعية والاقتصادية الطاحنة؟

تكمن المشكلة في أنه بالرغم من دور الجرائم الاقتصادية كتربة خصبة تنمو وتترعرع في ظلها فلسفة الانتهاكات البدنية، مع ثبوت وجود علاقة طردية بين انتهاكات حقوق الإنسان وجرائم الفساد المالي، عادة ما يولي الخطاب الحقوقي (سواء الأهلي أو الحكومي) أهمية خاصة للحقوق المدنية والسياسية على حساب الحقوق الاقتصادية، ولذا يجب تطوير تصور وخطاب أشمل وأعم للعدالة انتقالية يشمل الجرائم الاقتصادية وليس فقط الانتهاكات الجسدية المباشرة، وهو ما لم يحدث في مصر حيث صنف النظام جرائم الفساد المالي كجريمة أقل وأيسر من قتل المتظاهرين -على سبيل المثال- يسمح فيها بالتصالح مقابل دفع مبلغ مالي تحدده السلطات دون ضابط أو مراقبة. من المهم التركيز على أن هذا التفاوت في حالة مصر يحدث على المستوى الخطابي فقط، حيث لم يُعاقب في أغلب الحالات مرتكبي انتهاكات حقوق الإنسان بمختلف أشكالها.

وفي سياق قضايا الفساد المالي، تقضي أغلب أحكام الإدانة في قضايا الفساد والمال العام بدفع قيمة الضرر أو رد الشئ، بالإضافة إلى تغريم الشخصية السياسية المدانة بالفساد، بالإضافة إلى قدرة الدولة على مصادرة أموال المتهمين بالفساد داخليا ووجود قرارات بتجميد أموالهم في الكثير من، إن لم يكن أغلب، الولايات القضائية التي توجد بها أموال رجال عصر مبارك، هذا بالإضافة إلى الكلفة الاجتماعية لإفلات الفاسدين من العقاب، خاصة بعد أن انتفض ضدهم الملايين في ثورة يناير، وتنم أيضا عن ضعف قدرة الدولة في مواجهة الفساد مما يشجع على استمرار إفقاره لملايين المصريين على حساب قلة قليلة من المنتفعين.

ويؤثر التصالح كذلك على فرصة مصر في استعادة أموالها المنهوبة من الخارج، ففي تونس على سبيل المثال تم الإفراج عن الأموال المجمدة لبعض الأفراد بناء على طلب السلطات التونسية برغم اعتقاد السلطات السويسرية بأحقية بقاء هؤلاء الأفراد على قائمة الحظر، وهو الأمر الذي قد يحدث في مصر حال استمرار صفقات التصالح مع رموز النظام السابق، فمن الممكن أن تطلب السلطات المصرية رفع الحظر عن بعض الأسماء التي تم التصالح معها، وهو بالفعل ما يتوقع حدوثه وأن يكون من ضمن شروط صفقات التصالح.

وعادة لا تمتلك الدولة النامية، ضحية الفساد، الخبرات التقنية اللازمة للتعامل مع ملفات الفساد واستعادة الأموال بعد سقوط نظامها السياسي، وعادة ما يستميت النظام المخلوع للحيلولة دون تجميد ورد هذه الأموال بكل السبل المشروعة والغير المشروعة، فضلا عن عدم مقدرة تلك الدول على دفع تكاليف التقاضي الدولي العالي التكلفة، وعادة ما يكون قدرة النظام المخلوع المادية نتيجة نهب المال العام أفضل من قدرة الدولة المنهكة اقتصاديا في أمور التقاضي وتوكيل المحامين.

ومن هنا تنبع الأهمية في مصر وكل الدول التي تعاني من الفساد من إيجاد حل بديل للتعامل مع ملفات الفساد واسع النطاق خاصة بعد سقوط الأنظمة، فلا التصالح سيعيد الأموال المنهوبة ولا هو يبعث برسالة فحواها أن عصر الفساد ونهب الشعوب انتهى بعقاب الآثمين، بل في الواقع هو يضيع على مصر فرصة استعادة الأموال المنهوبة إلا ما تنعم علينا به رجال مبارك من أرض هنا وبعض الملايين القليلة هناك، مثل التصالح في قضية رشيد والذي حدد بـ ٢ مليون دولار، والتصالح في قضية أكرم عضاضة والمغربي، والتي قضت المحكمة برد الأرض محل الفساد إلى الدولة.

البديل؟

ونرى إنه يجب أن يكون هناك  مسار بديل للعدالة في ظل توتر وإنهاك المؤسسات الذي قد يجعل خيار التصالح خيارا مريحا، في ظل قدرة ضعيفة لمؤسسات العدالة في مصر على إدانة نظام مبارك عن سنوات الفساد المالي والسياسي، بسبب ضعفها وفسادها وخضوعها لصراع سياسي وسيطرة شبكة مصالح مبارك على جزء كبير من مفاصل الدولة.

لا نؤيد بالضرورة الحبس أو تغليظ العقوبة في الجرائم المالية لكن فساد نظام مبارك لا ينفصل عن ممارسات أخرى كانتهاكات حقوق الإنسان وتزوير إرادة الناخبين، فلذا ندعو لنظرة أكثر شمولية لجرائم النظام السابق، فالتصالح مع رموز نظام مبارك لن يكون في جرائم المال العام فقط بل عن تزوير إرادة الناخبين في كافة الانتخابات الرئاسية والبرلمانية والمجلية وانتهاكات حقوق الإنسان والفساد السياسي، فمن المثبت وهو ما سنناقشه بالتفصيل العلاقة الطردية بين الفساد الاقتصادي والقمع السياسي وانتهاكات حقوق الإنسان.

فحتى في حالات التي تكون فيها الدولة بمنظومة عدالتها مستقرة، يكون القضاء العادي عادة معني بالقضايا الفردية، أما الجرائم الممنهجة من تزوير انتخابات وتعذيب وفساد واسع النطاق عادة ما يحتاج إلى مسار بديل للعدالة بعد سقوط الأنظمة الديكتاتورية (بافتراض سقوطها في الحالة المصرية) ونظرة أكثر شمولية للجرائم السياسية والاجتماعية والجنائية والاقتصادية الممنهجة ونقط الالتقاط بينهم وربطهم ببعض، ولذا وجد مفهوم العدالة الانتقالية الذي بمقدرته أن ينظر في انتهاكات حقبة زمنية طويلة سابقة والانتهاكات والجرائم الممنهجة التي يصعب على القضاء العادي التعامل معها، ولكم من أجل تحقيق ذلك يجب علاج قصور هام في تجارب العدالة الانتقالية السابقة، وهو عدم إدراجها للجرائم الاقتصادية ضمن نطاق عملها.

فيبدو أن الحكومة الحالية تقع في فخ قديم وهو فصل الجرائم الاقتصادية عن بقية انتهاكات حقوق الإنسان “التقليدية” مثل القتل والتعذيب، فيسمح مثلا “قانون التصالح” بالتسوية مع المستثمر في جرائم الفساد ولكن شددت الحكومة في أكثر من مناسبة أنه لن يتم التصالح مع من قتل المتظاهرين خلال ثورة يناير، وذلك لدواعي احتياج الدولة لاستثمارات من رجال أعمال ولإعادة الثقة في الاقتصاد المصري، وانطلاقا من هذا، قد تم بدء عملية التصالح مع رجال أعمال ووزراء سابقين يتم من خلالها دفع مبلغ مادي في مقابل إسقاط التهم الموجهة له من فساد أو استغلال لسلطته السياسية لجني منفعة خاصة، المشكلة في هذا المفهوم تكمن في إغفالها الارتباط القوي بين الجرائم الاقتصادية وانتهاكات حقوق الإنسان بشكل عام.

الانتهاكات الجسدية لحقوق الإنسان هي نتيجة حتمية للجرائم الاقتصادية أو جرائم الفساد واسع النطاق من قبل أشخاص الذين يشغلون وظيفة عامة ومرتبطة ارتباط وثيق بها، ولأجل ترسيخ وتقوية نظام سياسي مبني علي الاستغلال الاقتصادي، تتجه الحكومات إلي استخدام القمع والعنف من النظم الأمنية ضد المواطنين. الجرائم الاقتصادية إذن هي وسيلة لتعزيز منظومة حكم معينة، علاوة علي ذلك فهذه السياسات يأتي معها انتهاكات اقتصادية أخري مثل العمل القسري وانتهاك الحق في أجر عادل.

الملفت للنظر هنا هو أن العدالة الانتقالية، نتيجة لكونها جزء من حركة حقوق الإنسان، تعمل بنفس منطق الحكومة المصرية الحالية. فالعدالة الانتقالية عادة ما تركز اهتمامها علي محاكمة وتقصي الانتهاكات المتعلقة بالجسد كالقتل والتعذيب (المعروفة بالحقوق المدنية والسياسية) ولا تركز علي الإطار الاقتصادي والمجتمعي الذي يحتضن تلك الانتهاكات في مقدمتها جرائم الفساد في الحالة المصرية. نتائج هذا الانفصام عادة ما تكون سلبية من ناحية محاولة تحقيق العدالة لجرائم الماضي، فهي تعتبر حل سطحي لمشاكل معقدة.

عدم إدراج الجرائم الاقتصادية الممنهجة (بمعني أنه تم “تطبعيها” كسياسة اقتصادية شرعية) يؤدي إلي عدم إمكانية النظر والتحقيق في كافة السياسات والشبكات والأشخاص الذين ساهموا في ظهور الفساد وانتشاره واستفادوا منه. بالرغم من ذلك، توجد حركة من خبراء ونشطاء في هذا المجال يطالبوا بأهمية أحذ نظرة أكثر شمولية للعدالة الانتقالية بمنطق أن أي مكاسب من عملية انتقالية سوف تتلاشي إذ لم يتم القضاء علي الأسباب الجذرية التي أدت إلي القمع والعنف.

يتم الاستشهاد في مصر بتجربة جنوب أفريقيا، في إشارة إلي عمليات العفو مقابل الحقيقة التي مرت بها البلد بعد سقوط نظام الفصل العنصري (الأبارتيد) هناك. تجربة جنوب أفريقيا حاضرة بقوّة في النقاشات حول العدالة الانتقالية والمصالحة، لكن سياسة العفو في الحقيقة فشلت في إحقاق العدالة لضحايا الفصل العنصري، وفقا لهوارد فارني القاضي الذي عمل في لجنة الحقيقة والمصالحة في جنوب أفريقيا. بناء عليه، فأن سياسات التصالح المتبناة من قبل الحكومة لدواعي اقتصادية مضرة لمسار العدالة في مصر، فهي تعتبر ضياع لفرصة ثمينة لمعرفة كيف كانت تعمل سياسات نظام مبارك الاقتصادية في إطار واحد مع القمع الجسدي ضد المصريين وأيضا تبعث الرسالة أن العدالة تستطيع أن تباع وتشتري بالثمن المناسب. سيكون من الضروري لتحقيق العدل تبني منظومة أكثر شمولية لمفهوم العدالة الانتقالية يتم إدراج فيها الجرائم الاقتصادية، وهكذا، تستطيع آليات العدالة الانتقالية كلجان الحقيقة ولجان الغربلة العمل كمسار بديل لسياسات التصالح الغير عادلة من ناحية، ومن ناحية أخري كبديل المحاكم العادية الغير قادرة علي العمل علي هذا الملف نظرا لتسييسها وعملها في إطار غير مستقر.

أطروحة التصالح من أجل النهوض بالاقتصاد التي تبنتها حكومات ما بعد الثورة تدلل على نظرة ضيقة لإدارة الملف الاقتصادي والخطاب المسيطر الذي يختصر النجاح الاقتصادي في جذب الاستثمارات الأجنبية، ونذكر جميعا النجاح الهائل الذي حققته الحكومات السابقة على الثورة -خاصة حكومة أحمد نظيف- والمؤشرات القياسية في جذب الاستثمارات الأجنبية، وتزامن هذا النمو المطرد في قدوم الاستثمارات الأجنبية إلى مصر مع زيادة حالة الاحتقان الاجتماعي والاعتصامات والإضرابات حتى توجت بثورة ٢٥ يناير، التي قامت ضد النظام ذاته الذي دخلت كل هذه الاستثمارات في عهده، مما يدل بما لا يدع مجالا للشك أن قدوم الاستثمارات الأجنبية ليس هو الحل السحري والفوري لأزماتنا الكثيرة والمتنوعة.

ففي الأعوام السابقة على الثورة، شهدت مصر معدلات نمو في الناتج المحلي الإجمالي تصل إلى الـ ٧٪ لمدة ثلاث سنوات متتالية، وتدفقات من الاستثمارات الأجنبية وضعتها على قمة الدول الأفريقية من حيث جذب الاستثمارات الأجنبية، ففي عام ٢٠٠٧ على سبيل المثال، دخل مصر ما يزيد على ١٠ مليار دولار مما يمثل نحو ثلث إجمالي التدفقات الرأسمالية إلى أفريقيا، ولكن لم تؤد هذه الأموال إلى حدوث رخاء وسلم اجتماعي بدليل ما شهده عامان ٢٠٠٨ و٢٠٠٩ من أعداد قياسية من الإضرابات الاعتصامات العمالية، ولعلنا نذكر منها ما حدث في ٦ إبريل ٢٠٠٨ والعشرات من الاعتصامات العمالية أمام مجلس الشعب التي استمرت لشهور طويلة في ٢٠٠٩.

فهل ستعود التصالحات بالنفع الاقتصادي على مصر وبث جو من الثقة في مناخها الاستثماري مما يؤدي إلى تدفق الأموال والخيرات على مصر وتحقيق الاستقرار المنشود؟

إذا كانت هناك نية للنهوض الاقتصادي وارتفاع مستوى المعيشة للمواطن الفقير والمعدم، يجب ألا يكون التركيز على توفير مناخ استثماري مبني على العمالة الرخيصة والدعم الحكومي للمصانع كثيفة الطاقة وانحياز أعمى لصالح المستثمر فلنا في السنوات السابقة للثورة عبرة، فهذه الفلسفة الاستثمارية لا تبني اقتصاديات قوية أو تنتشل المعدمين من الفقر، بل يكاد يكون من أهم أهدافها الحفاظ على الفقر ورخص العمالة كعنصر من عناصر الإنتاج، وتؤدي هذه الفلسفة الاستثمارية التي تتفرد بها الدول النامية إلى تركيز الثروة الجديدة في أيدي قلة قليلة مما يؤدي إلى توسيع الفجوة الاقتصادية بين الطبقات الاجتماعية والاقتصادية المختلفة، وتؤدي أيضا إلى تضخم وزيادة في الأسعار تزود من صعوبات وضغوطات الحياة بالنسبة للفقراء والمعدمين مما يؤدي بطبيعة الحال إلى زيادة الاحتقان وتهديد السلم العام.

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This article first appeared on Mada Masr on 31 March 2014. Republished here with the authors’ consent.

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Egypt’s return of the “noble” outlaws

 
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By Bel Trew and Osama Diab

Three years after a revolution against Mubarak-era cronyism, fugitive tycoons are scrambling to buy back their freedom… at knock-down prices.

Wednesday 19 February 2014

As crowds packed streets throughout Egypt during the 2011 uprising that overthrew autocrat Hosni Mubarak, it wasn’t only the politicians and generals in Cairo who were scrambling to protect their interests. With the old regime teetering, business tycoons connected to the regime packed up their bags – and their billions – and fled the country.

One of them was Hussein Salem, who was nicknamed the “Father of Sharm el-Sheikh” for his ownership of multiple hotels in the coastal resort city. Salem made billions of dollars in the energy, arms, and hospitality industry in Mubarak’s Egypt – he was so close to the former president that the two even invested together, according to documents obtained by Foreign Policy. It was a lucrative alliance for Salem: In the early 2000s, Mubarak granted him a monopoly over gas exports to Jordan, Israel, and Spain. Salem used this deal to sell gas at below-market rates for years, according to an Egyptian court ruling, costing the country more than $700 million.

Salem hasn’t been back to Egypt since Mubarak’s fall, and for good reason. As post-uprising Egypt looked to recoup the millions stolen by Mubarak and his cronies, a series of court cases focused on the corrupt business practices of Salem and his family. In October 2011, Salem – along with his son, Khaled, and daughter, Magda – were found guilty of making illicit gains on their gas sales, and sentenced in absentia to seven years in jail. In June 2012, he was convicted of selling gas to Israel at below-market prices, and sentenced in absentia to 15 years in jail, and ordered, along with other defendants, to pay $412 million in fines.

Salem, however, holds Spanish citizenship, which has allowed him to dodge the Egyptian legal system. He is now living in Majorca, Spain, and is wanted by Interpol along with his son and daughter. Spanish courts, however, have refused to extradite him to Egypt because the two nations do not have judicial or legal bilateral co-operation agreements and the courts’ uncertainty about the fairness of Egypt’s legal process.

But for the first time since Mubarak was toppled, Salem’s fortunes – and that of other Mubarak-era businessmen – may be shifting for the better. Since Egypt’s generals ousted Islamist President Mohamed Morsi last July, Salem said he has been ecstatic and is planning his return to Cairo, his lawyer Tarek Abdel-Aziz told FP. The billionaire Mubarak confidant phoned in to a popular television program in January to offer a deal to the new military-backed government: cancel my convictions and I’ll give Egypt millions.

Egyptian officials publicly welcomed the offer.

“Mr Hussein Salem and other noble businessmen … your initiative is really appreciated,” said Hany Salah, a cabinet spokesman, during the phone-in on local channel CBC. “Anyone who proposes a noble and good offer, then the least we can do is listen to him for the best of our beloved country.”

Since the overthrow of Morsi, Salah continued, Egypt is more open to initiatives of “reconciliation” – and he expects other Mubarak-era fugitive businessmen to propose similar deals. Reconciliation deals can either be reached by committees appointed by the prime minister and justice minister, or they can be brokered by the general prosecutor, who is appointed by the president.

Reconciliation, however, seems to mean little more than dropping corruption charges in exchange for cash. During another phone-in on 9 January, Salem offered the government a $3.6 million fund to boost tourism and repair police stations, churches and mosques in exchange for his freedom. That’s actually a drastic decrease compared to his pre-coup proposal: in May 2012, just before Morsi became president, Salem offered at least half his estimated $1.6 billion in wealth in exchange for settling the charges against him, according to Abdel-Aziz.

Three years after protests against the sort of business cronyism that gutted Egypt’s economy, the country is now considering turning to the very people who robbed the country for a financial bailout. Despite protesters’ widespread demands for social justice, post-revolutionary Egypt has witnessed precious few improvements: Transparency International ranks Egypt 114 out of 177 countries on its “Corruption Perception Index,” and its position has actually fallen since 2011.

The relationship between Mubarak-era business tycoons and the Egyptian government appeared to have been severed long ago, as the prosecutions targeting these businessmen were launched by the interim military government that followed Mubarak. But “reconciliation” could allow the new military-backed government to reestablish the same powerful networks of loyal businessmen that flourished under Mubarak.

The process “opens the door for more corruption and escaping justice,” said Ghada Ali Moussa, a political scientist who heads up the Governance Centre, a government agency dedicated to preventing corruption and advancing transparency. “[Salem’s prospective reconciliation deal] will be an ideal prototype for others to follow.”

Other businessmen with ties to the Mubarak regime are also lining up their reconciliation offers. Mubarak’s minister of foreign trade and industry, Rachid Mohamed Rachid, is in similar talks with the government and is set to put in another offer, Moussa said. Rachid, who was sentenced in absentia to 20 years in jail and at least $330 million in fines for squandering public funds and profiteering, fled to Dubai during the 2011 uprising.

Army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s consolidation of power could also increase Egypt’s willingness to cut reconciliation deals. While much normal government business has been on hold under the current interim government, a strongman in the presidential palace and a new parliament could change that.

“There will be a climate for such reconciliation to materialise,” Ibrahim el-Henedy, Egypt’s deputy justice minister and head of the Illicit Gains Authority, the body in charge of investigating corruption, told FP. “It’s all about the offer of reconciliation: which is better for Egypt, to reconcile or not?”

Even though Salem was “among the worst” of the country’s corrupt businessmen and has been ordered to pay some of the biggest fines, Henedy said, the government was still interested in striking a reconciliation deal.

Salem’s lawyer, Tarek Abdel-Aziz, also believes that the time is ripe to settle his client’s disagreements with the Egyptian government. He told FP he is working on an official reconciliation offer, which will be submitted to the authorities now that Morsi has been ousted. His client is “very optimistic,” the lawyer said.

“Now, thank God, there is an existing system that takes care of all Egyptians,” Abdel-Aziz said. “Today we have a new regime – hopefully a just regime that will move things forward.”

Abdel-Aziz denied that Salem was tied to Mubarak and said the charges were politically motivated. However, a leaked document from the Illicit Gains Authority shows that the Salems and the Mubaraks – together with other businessmen tied to the old regime – invested together in an offshore fund registered in the Cayman Islands, a Caribbean tax haven.

The investment fund, which was called the Egypt Fund, invested in 18 Egyptian companies in the cement, banking, real estate, steel, oil, food, and agricultural industries. The head of investor relations at EFG Hermes bank, Hanzada Nessim, wrote in an e-mail that her bank set up the Egypt Fund in 1997. When asked whether EFG Hermes was aware of the investors behind the fund, Nessim wrote that the bank was fully informed of the investors’ identities and that no allegations of wrongdoing had been levied against them at the time.

While Salem and Mubarak were not personally listed as contributors, the fund included companies owned by their children: Clelia Assets Corporation, owned by Khaled and Magda Salem, invested $3 million; and Pan World Investments Corporation, owned by Gamal and Alaa Mubarak, invested $250,000. The offshore fund would have provided significant tax breaks to its investors, as well as allowing them to shield their investments from prying eyes.

Salem not only bilked Egypt – he also stole from the United States. In 1979, his company, the Egyptian American Transport and Service Corporation (EATSCO), was granted a contract to ship military goods from the United States to Egypt. The deal came in the wake of the Camp David Accords, when US military sales started to flood in to Cairo, making shipping a potentially lucrative business.

Salem, however, tried to boost his profits by charging the US Defense Department for inflated shipment costs. Between 1979 and 1981, according to US court documents, EATSCO submitted false invoices for 34 shipments, which overcharged the Pentagon by $8 million. In 1983, Salem pled guilty to felony charges in the US District Court in the Eastern District of Virginia. The fines and civil claims settlements paid by Salem and the companies involved in the scheme totaled more than $4 million.

Most of Salem’s millions came from sweetheart deals in Egypt, where he received preferential treatment from his allies at the top echelons of government. In April 2011, Mubarak-era spy chief Omar Suleiman testified before an Egyptian prosecutor that Salem’s company, the East Mediterranean Gas Company, was handed the monopoly over gas exports to Israel, Jordan, and Spain in the early 2000s, bypassing the usual bidding process. Suleiman was asked to testify as Egypt’s intelligence services were allegedly involved in brokering the gas deals.

Suleiman said Salem had been friends with Mubarak for more than 20 years, and that his experience in business dealings with Israel was the reason he was chosen for the deal.

“[Salem] had dealt with the Israelis before with MIDOR,” Suleiman said, referencing Salem’s time as chairman for the Middle East Oil Refining Company, an Israel-Egyptian project established in 1993 to build a joint refinery on the North coast of Egypt and to extend an oil pipeline to Israel.

Seven years later, Salem sold 37% of the East Mediterranean Gas Company for $4.2 billion, according to the Israeli business news website Globes.

It’s not hard to see why Salem is pushing so hard for reconciliation. If Egypt refuses to cut a deal and negotiates an extradition agreement, it could win back his frozen assets in Switzerland, Hong Kong, and Spain. The extradition would allow Egypt to convict Salem in person, and many countries – including the ones where Salem stashed his wealth – require such a final verdict if they are to return his stolen assets.

If successfully extradited back home, Salem would also be obliged to pay more than $4 billion in fines and restitution, and he would serve 22 years in prison based on his combined sentences by Egyptian courts.

A reconciliation deal, on the other hand, would not only place Salem back in the good graces of the Egyptian government, it would also effectively end foreign investigations into whether his wealth is the result of illicit gain.

“It would be very difficult for the Swiss authorities to continue prosecution against Hussein Salem if the Egyptian authorities drop any charges against him,” said Olivier Longchamp, officer for international financial relations at the Swiss NGO Berne Declaration. “Money can only be seized if it has been proven to be of illegal origin.”

Now, three years after a revolution against Mubarak-era cronyism, Salem appears closer to his goal than ever before. In an ironic turn, he is now hailing the military-backed government for combating the same underhanded business dealings of which, for many Egyptians, he is the symbol. As he put it in January, “the era of corruption and injustice is gone now.”

This feature first appeared in Foreign Policy on 7 February 2014. It is republished here with the authors’ consent.

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Can Egypt start a new chapter of Middle Eastern history?

 
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By Khaled Diab

The new constitution says Egypt is a “gift” that will “write a new history for humanity”. Should neighbours welcome or fear greater Egyptian influence?

Saturday 25 January 2014

For the past three years, Egyptian history has been in overdrive. After six decades with just four presidents, Egypt is already into its fourth leader since January 2011, and a fifth, possibly General Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, will take over the helm soon. In that same span of accelerated time, Egypt has seen a mind-spinning array of revolutions, counterrevolutions, anti-revolutions, coups, evolutions and devolutions… often simultaneously.

Needless to say, the past 36 months have been an emotional rollercoaster and space jump for Egyptians, especially those at the frontline of the revolution, but also for those, like me, observing from the sidelines.

Although I shun nationalism and the word  patriotism troubles me, during the 18 days it took to topple Hosni Mubarak, I was the proudest I’d ever been of my birth nationality. Despite dreading the hangover which would follow, I too was caught up in the euphoria of the moment, that “beautiful, sweet, intoxicating chaos in which millions are partying to the beat of their own freedom”, as I wrote back then.

On this, the third anniversary of the mass uprising that has succeeded in mobilising millions again and again and again, the question on everyone’s lips is whether or not the Egyptian revolution has been defeated.

Though many have been reading the revolution its last rites, I am of the conviction that the uprising may have been contained for the time being, but the aspirations and it unleashed are uncontainable. And like “liberté, égalité, fraternité” survived to fight another day, “bread, freedom, dignity” will remain a rallying cry for generations.

Another question which has preoccupied many is what are the ramifications of events in Egypt, the most populous Arab country, for the Middle East, and how will it shape or reshape Egypt’s regional role?

In some quarters of Egyptian society, the domestic issues the revolution has focused on have been rather too bread and butter for their tastes, and they dream of Egypt (re)gaining its regional clout.

This is reflected in the flowery, sometimes jingoistic preamble of the new constitution which takes poetic licence with Egypt’s place in the world. “Egypt is the gift of the Nile to Egyptians, and the gift of Egyptians to humanity,” reads the very first sentence of the constitution’s preamble.

Taking note of the conflicts between East and West, and North and South, which have torn apart the world, the founding document declares Egypt’s intention to help “write a new history for humanity”.

What is the likelihood that Egypt will fulfil these dizzyingly high aspirations?

Given that the world is a much bigger and more complicated place than at the dawn of civilisation and Egypt is only a middle-income, middle-sized country, any role it can play is bound to be limited, even at the best of times.

Nevertheless, many Arabs expect Egypt to play a central role in regional affairs. I am constantly surprised by the number of Palestinians I meet who regard Egypt’s natural position as the central player in the region, even repeating the tired platitude which I had once assumed was mostly a domestic comforter – that Egypt is the “Mother of the World”.

At one level, it is touching to observe how Palestinians, despite the multitude of problems they face, take such a keen interest in my country’s affairs, feeling elation for our successes and depression for our failures. “We have always looked to Egypt for inspiration and support,” one Palestinian I met recently told me.

The Israeli perspective is more complicated. Many Israelis, especially the young and progressive, voiced support for the Egyptian revolution and sent messages of solidarity, including in song, to the protestors, while the epicentre of the 2011 social protests in Israel, Tel Aviv’s Rothschild’s Avenue, was known as “Tahrir Square” to many demonstrators.

However, when it came to the Israeli political establishment, fear and fear-mongering were the order of the day. “I highly doubt that the Muslim Brotherhood will succeed, in a post-Mubarak democratic Egypt, of gaining complete control of the country through an Islamic counterrevolution,” I wrote before Mubarak’s downfall, in response to Israeli concerns that Egypt would become “another Iran”. “The cold Egyptian-Israeli peace would remain just as cool or may well chill a few degrees, regardless of the composition of a future democratic government.”

And as time would tell, when they gained power, the Muslim Brotherhood proved keen on maintaining the peace, for reasons of realpolitik. Ousted president Mohamed Morsi even earning accolades from Israel for his government’s mediation of the 2012 military confrontation between Israel and Gaza.

Moreover, today Egypt’s policies towards the Palestinians are even more in line with Israel’s than they were under Mubarak, and to greater public approval. Tragically, this has translated into Egypt becoming an even greater accomplice in Israel’s blockade of Gaza, the vilification of Gazans, and whispers that the regime may be planning to do what has eluded Israel: topple Hamas.

Yet many Palestinians and Arabs still hold out hope that Egypt will play a benign role in the neighbourhood. “Egypt is the bellwether Arab state,” an Emirati journalist and commentator put it to me succinctly. And this “bellwether” role could explain why the Gulf has been pumping billions into the Egyptian economy – to keep the revolutionary bug at bay and to buy political leverage.

And once upon a time, Egypt was not only the most populous Arab country but also its wealthiest. This gave it automatic top dog status, with mixed results.

On the plus side, Egypt launched the Arab world’s first modernising project in the 19th century, has long been an intellectual and cultural dynamo, helped its neighbours resist imperialism in the 20th century, played a pivotal role in constructing a sense of post-colonial pride, and acted in solidarity with non-aligned countries everywhere.

But there is an ugly underbelly to Egypt’s regional influence, and ignorance of it or failure to appreciate it could have serious consequences. For example, even if Egypt was a major anti-colonial influence, it was also an imperial power in its own right.

Khedive Muhammad Ali may have freed Egypt from Ottoman rule but his son, Ibrahim Pasha, ruthlessly and bloodily built his father an empire which, at some point or other, encompassed the Hijaz, Sudan, parts of Anatolia, much of the Levant and Crete, with even Constantinople within military but not political reach. However, imperial Egypt proved as unpopular as any other imperial power in the conquered regions, particularly Sudan.

Following the 1952 revolution/coup, or revolutionary coup, Egypt became a powerhouse of anti-imperialism and pan-Arabism. It lent support to some countries seeking independence and provided inspiration to others, with millions dreaming that the Arab world could become a single nation under the leadership of Gamal Abdel-Nasser.

But the only actual attempt to realise this dream ended in both tragedy and farce. Even though Nasser did not want to enter into a union with Syria, the Syrian government, fearing a communist takeover, forced his hand.

Instead of the United Arab Republic being a marriage of equals, Nasser quickly destroyed Syrian democracy and turned it into the personal fiefdom of his most-trusted confidante, the highly incompetent Abdel-Hakim Amer – perhaps evoking bitter memories of Ibrahim Pasha amongst Syrians.

Then there was what many have called Egypt’s “Vietnam” in Yemen, not to mention the disasters of the 1948 and 1967 wars with Israel.

How much and what kind of a regional role or influence – and whether it will be benign or aggressive – Egypt will have in the coming years will depend on many factors. But it is certainly possible that, if elected president, al-Sisi, like many leaders during tumultuous times before him, will involve Egypt actively, perhaps even aggressively, in regional politics to distract attention away from pressing domestic issues or to fill the country’s empty coffers.

But rather than exporting the troubling brand of nationalistic chauvinism that has been emerging in recent months, what I’d like to see is Egypt sharing the irrepressible spirit of the Republic of Tahrir so that, together, the region can grow free.

Follow Khaled Diab on Twitter.

This article first appeared in Haaretz on 23 January 2014.

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