A video in which the son of ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak appeared last week, announcing the “successful conclusion of all international judicial proceedings concerning the family”, ignited contentious debates among commentators and the public.
In the video, Mubarak’s younger son Gamal addressed the public for the first time in 11 years.
“No illicit assets, no concealed assets, and no unexplained sources of assets have been attributed to any member of the Mubarak family,” Gamal said in the 20-minute video, blaming “the forces opposing the late president” of launching a decade-long “ferocious campaign of false allegations” of corruption against his family.
The message comes nearly one month after Swiss prosecutors dropped an 11-year investigation into alleged money laundering and organised crime linked to persons close to Mubarak, including his two sons, saying that information received in cooperation with the Egyptian authorities was not enough to endorse the claims linking Mubarak’s circles to the case.
Gamal referred to the decision by the Swiss attorney-general that, according to him, ends all international judicial proceedings involving the Mubarak family.
“The Federal [Swiss] prosecutor, after an exhaustive investigation lasting well over 11 years… asserted in its decision that the investigation ‘has failed to establish even a tenuous connection to any offence,’” Gamal said in his statement.
They noted that the proceedings against five suspects who are members of the Mubarak family will therefore be abandoned, and the assets still confiscated (amounting to 400 million Swiss francs, or LE7.8 billion at the current exchange rate) will be released.
Amal Abdel-Hamid, a member of the Planning and Budget Committee in the House of Representatives, raised a parliamentary question to the prime minister and minister of justice regarding the source of the funds of the two sons of Mubarak, which the Swiss authorities recently unfroze.
“We were waiting for Gamal Mubarak to answer the most important question that occupies the mind of every citizen in Egypt, which he neglected to mention in the statement and deliberately did not refer to it, after the Swiss authorities released 400 million Swiss francs. It was important for Gamal to explain to the Egyptian people the source of this money in terms of transparency, and whether it was the outcome of his own work, and his brother Alaa, or projects of their own, or as a result of their exploitation of his father’s influence. It is in all cases considered illegal gain,” Abdel-Hamid said on Saturday.
The Swiss decision came a week after the General Court of the European Union announced it would cancel the EU Council’s 2018, 2019, and 2020 extensions of the decision to freeze the assets of the family, including those of former first lady Suzanne Mubarak, sons Gamal and Alaa, and their wives Heidi Rasekh and Khadiga Al-Gammal.
The court on 6 April also ruled the EU must pay legal costs incurred by the Mubarak family, and that the unfrozen funds —initially frozen in 2011 and intended to assist the Egyptian authorities recover misappropriated state-owned assets — would be made available after the expiry of the 70-day period to appeal the court’s decisions.
“We have already received a substantial payment from the EU Council to refund our legal costs as ordered by the EU Court of Justice,” Gamal said. “This acknowledgement shows once again that restrictive measures imposed on the family by the EU Council were unlawful from the outset.
“We were fully committed to vindicating our position solely before the Egyptian judiciary,” Gamal said. “However, our hand was forced by the Egyptian authorities who made a deliberate decision to pursue us in international jurisdictions,” he added.
He said that the family was left no choice but to vigorously defend its position before judicial authorities in foreign jurisdictions.
Moreover, Gamal stated all international legal proceedings found no single instance of assets hidden overseas by the Mubarak family members.
The Mubarak family reserves their legal rights against any future “defamatory reporting”, said Gamal, adding that it “cannot stay silent anymore in the face of such persistent defamatory reporting” on its members.
The statement stirred controversy on social media platforms with some questioning not only the reasons behind Gamal’s appearance, but also his frequent public appearances during the days preceding the release of the video, including his visit to the UAE to extend condolences following the death of UAE president Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan. They said the video carried messages that went beyond seeking to clear the family name for the sake of “history records”.
Others like columnist Suleiman Gouda believe the video made no political grounds or gains.
“The word ‘politics’ with all its synonyms hasn’t any presence in the statement because the first and last concern of the addresser was to explain to those who accused his father or mother of having money outside the country that they were not telling the truth,” Gouda wrote in his column in the Egyptian daily Al-Masry Al-Youm on Friday. He added that Gamal also intended to note that “the party that issued the ruling is not an Egyptian party that can be said to be wanting to compliment the family, but was a foreign party.”
What is a political matter in the life of Hosni Mubarak will remain a subject of contention all the time, and will even remain the subject of reckoning, accountability and review, Gouda said.
“I don’t want to get into speculation about political connotations [of the statement] because all conjectures regarding political goals are possible,” former MP and political commentator Amr Al-Chobaki told Al-Ahram Weekly.
“The statement could be a stance or a proof of innocence, with political purposes in light of the timing of the statement coming just a few days after the Egyptian state announced preparations for a national dialogue,” Al-Chobaki, a liberal political analyst at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, said.
During the annual Egyptian family Iftar banquet in late April, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi assigned the National Training Academy (NTA) to conduct a political dialogue on the current priorities of national action and to present its outcomes to him personally.
The dialogue, which aims to help crystallise a new “social contract”, has been welcomed by political forces, civil society organisations, research centres, and business associations.
What proves the political purpose is his appearance in person in the video statement, and not just having it as a written statement, Al-Chobaki said, as with only a written statement it would have been merely a proof of innocence on legal grounds.
“His presence in person indicates his presence in the political arena.”
However, the outcome of the national dialogue, and the shape of the presidential elections in 2024 will define the dimensions of this political presence, the political expert said, adding that in theory Gamal represents an orientation or colour within the shades and orientations that exist within society though he doesn’t enjoy a consensus. “And hence his road will not be paved.”
On the other hand, renowned TV presenter Ibrahim Eissa raised some questions during his TV show. “Why now, and why did [Gamal] read the statement in English? And why did he dedicate his emotional message to his late father in Arabic?”
Almost 18 minutes out of the 20-minute video was in English.
The fact that the statement was mostly in English, Al-Chobaki says, reflects his thinking that the influence of the foreign world is important and significant, which is why he was keen on communicating in English. “Moreover, maybe he bolsters his presence by communicating with the foreign world,” he said.
“It remains a strange matter for someone to be in an Arab country and insist that his message be in English,” Al-Chobaki said.
Some tackled the significance, implications, and timing of Gamal’s appearance, while others, opponents of his father, referred to the conviction of Mubarak and his sons in 2016 in the “presidential palaces” case that made Mubarak the first Egyptian president ever convicted.
Before Hosni Mubarak stepped down as president in 2011 following nationwide protests against his rule, it was widely assumed he had been grooming Gamal for the presidency.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 26 May, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.