Corruption without remnants

Wael Gamal , Thursday 21 Feb 2013

Corruption will not be defeated until the depth of the former regime is exposed and the pillars of a new anti-corruption legal system built

The Arabic definition of feloul depends on the sentence, but basically covers an array of negative adjectives, including defeated, barren, broken or bankrupt.

Three press statements by senior figures in President Morsi’s regime in less than two weeks made the same point. First, Minister of Trade and Industry Hatem Saleh told the Middle East News Agency in Berlin on 31 January: “It’s not true that the former regime was toppled and eliminated once Hosni Mubarak and his men were toppled. We are all Mubarak.”

Saleh explained that anyone who is shocked by this fact “must realise that part of that regime has been embedded inside all of us for 30 years.” He also revealed that “the government has taken steps to reconcile with some figures of Mubarak’s regime that were not entirely corrupt. We will reconcile through a legal process with anyone who did not corrupt or was somewhat corrupt but without spilling blood. This is the intention of the incumbent regime and we will get this done.”

The second statement came two days later from Muslim Brotherhood businessman Hassan Malek, who announced reconciliation initiatives and is in charge of reconciliation negotiations despite not holding any official capacity. Malek told Al-Watan newspaper in a telephone interview that the term feloul (remnants of the previous regime) is overused. Are there businessmen who are feloul, he was asked? He responded: “Of course not. They are Egyptian businessmen and capitalists, even if they had private interests that caused them to cooperate with the former regime. By that, I mean those who did not infringe on public rights and are not facing criminal charges or involved in killing revolutionaries.”

The third statement was published in Al-Shurouq newspaper Friday quoting Minister of Justice Ahmed Mekki as saying: “There is no such thing as figures of the former regime; they are called investors and businessmen.” The news item also quoted senior government sources as saying that the government will amend criminal procedure laws regarding reconciling with investors and businessmen who are under legal investigation.

If we consider the definition of the word feloul, the three figures of Morsi’s regime are correct: the sword of corruption has not been “blunted or broken”; the figures of the previous regime have not been “defeated”; and the land is “barren” and the people are “bankrupt” of money.

Justice, property of the rich

In interview with Reuters 28 October, 2011, Malek summarised the Muslim Brotherhood’s strategy for economic policies: “The economic policies of ousted President Hosni Mubarak were on the right track, but were tainted by corruption and cronyism.” Nearly 18 months later — six were under President Morsi rule — these economic policies remain in place and the war on corruption is waning.

In fact, this strategy was clear since the beginning; for example, who can differentiate the financial from the political in a personality like Ahmed Ezz? Corruption and cronyism were fundamental components of the structure of government the revolution beheaded, and key elements in capital market liberalisation policies, privatisation, land allocation, and state subsidies to the rich under the pretense of free market slogans.

During the last years of Mubarak’s rule, corruption was no longer just an open market feature in the form of a bribe or kickback to a government official. It was a main component of policies, for policymakers, and fundamental interests for which these policies were tailored in the economy and other sectors. Thus, eliminating corruption was actually impossible without overthrowing the regime, in terms of corrupt policies and modus operandi.

Since the beginning, Muslim Brotherhood economic policies were obviously not aiming to overthrow the prior regime. Thus, the Brotherhood pursued reconciliation even with well-known players (such as Hussein Salem, Rachid Mohamed Rachid, Yassin Mansour, Ahmed Al-Maghrabi and others) and eliminated only the familiar faces.

We must also realise that the reconciliation process is neither transparent nor guided by clear legal parameters concerning means to deter corruption, return usurped rights, or install the pillars of a new anti-corruption legal system.

In an article published in Egypt Independent on 30 January, Christoph Wilcke, Transparency International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in response to lifting the travel ban against Mubarak and his two sons in the Al-Ahram gifts case that the anti-corruption policies of the new general prosecutor demonstrate that “integrity can be bought and sold.” Wilcke added: “If money can buy immunity from prosecution, then justice will not only be bought and sold but become the property of the rich.”

Meanwhile, a Transparency International report on corruption in 2012 published in December revealed that Egypt dropped by six points during one year to rank 118th among world countries for bribery, abuse of power and illegal covert dealings. “Big promises were made, but only few or small steps were taken,” the report said.

At the same time, there was a noticeable drop in major corruption cases since the first few weeks of Mubarak’s ouster. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, under pressure from million man marches, pursued trivial cases compared to the real magnitude of the crimes committed. Today, Mubarak's men are being set free one after the other.

After President Morsi removed the general prosecutor who himself is accused of belonging to the ousted regime, the new prosecutor is now focusing on journalists, the media and minor cases. He is resting on his laurels after closing the Al-Ahram gifts case (which is also a minor case) that concluded in a financial settlement.

Deficiency in laws

Current laws are deficient in controlling corrupt practices, perhaps intentionally so, while corruption laws were not amended to correct close loopholes — most notably capital market laws. Conflicts of interest, a key feature of the former regime’s corruption, also remain unregulated by law.

In fact, the new regime adopts policies that raise suspicions about conflicts of interest, such as accusations against the minister of trade and industry for monopolising the dairy market, a claim filed by his predecessor, Mahmoud Eissa, based on investigations by the Authority for Protecting Competition and Preventing Monopoly.

Then we are affronted by news that the president’s son was appointed to a government job along with several other relatives, while Morsi himself refuses to submit his declaration of financial status although he had promised during his election campaign to make it public if he won the elections.

Meanwhile, the army’s non-military economic activities continue (in macaroni, fuel stations, mineral water and sports clubs that buy football players worth millions) without any oversight after gaining immunity in the new constitution, instead of becoming more open to public monitoring.

There is also a lot of political spending without limits. And the Muslim Brotherhood itself remains without legal status, while financial sources and funds for its political party’s activities are dubious.

Hot like pepper

The definition of fel means defeat or break, and felfel means black pepper that burns the mouth. Since the former regime still exists, as Minister Saleh told us, and is embedded in him personally, there really are no feloul of corruption because corruption has not been defeated. As we can see, corrupt policies are still in place even if the faces have changed. In fact, some are now being invited to come back and build the renaissance project.

Corruption will not be defeated unless the Mubarak regime is truly overthrown. In this battle, every single one of the millions who do not have Mubarak and his regime embedded in them — unlike the minister — and who sought and continue to pursue the overthrow of the regime of oppression, exploitation and corruption, will remain like burning pepper in the eyes of the corrupt until we declare victory and defeat them.

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