The Mubarak mansions

Mubarak and his sons were just handed three- and four-year sentences on embezzlement charges. To understand the case, and get a detailed example of how the ruling family routinely stole from the public coffers, read this excellent piece of investigative journalism by Hossam Bahgat. Sifting through the court documents and talking to a whistle-blowing investigator, Bahgat reconstructs a decades-old scam that also involves the ubiquitous Arab Contractors company and the current prime minister, Ibrahim Mehleb.  

Egyptian citizens have unknowingly paid millions of pounds for refurbishments, furnishings, appliances, utilities bills and maintenance of the two offices that Gamal and Alaa Mubarak used to conduct their profitable investment business on al-Saada Street in Roxy, Heliopolis. Alaa’s wife Heidi charged the state for every last expense in the renovation of a new villa in the posh Golf Area on Qattamiya Heights in New Cairo. When Gamal and his wife Khadiga had their first daughter in 2010, the Arab Contractors company paid the bill to design, build and furnish a separate wing for the newborn in the Uruba Palace in Heliopolis. 

At some point, first lady Suzanne Mubarak wanted to have a private office in the new, glamorous City Stars Intercontinental hotel and mall – Egyptian citizens paid for its interior design and every piece of furniture. When Mubarak’s 12-year-old grandson Mohamed died in a tragic playground accident in 2009, Arab Contractors used the telecom towers budget to fraudulently cover the costs of building a new private mausoleum. Many of the receipts describe expenses on the five villas that Mubarak and his sons privately owned in the el-Sheikh Red Sea resort and on a 25-feddan farm jointly owned by Gamal and Alaa on the road from Cairo to Ismailia.  

Other expenses covered by the state budget include an elevator to the roof of Alaa and Heidi’s Qattamya villa “to be able to adjust and maintain the satellite dishes on the roof,” a Jacuzzi pool in the Heliopolis residence, and a giant tent and candles for a party in one of the Sharm el-Sheikh villas. 

The Crooks Return to Cairo

Bel Trew and Osama Diab, writing for FP on the potential exoneration of former spook, Sinai magnate and Mubarak moneyman Hussein Salem:

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."

Under Morsi, Red Lines Gone Gray

Jonathan Guyer, in Jadaliyya, looks at political cartooning under Mubarak, Morsi and the military. His very interesting article (based on a year's worth of Fulbright research) confirms my sense that there was more freedom of expression under Morsi than before or after -- not because the Brother's weren't authoritarian, but because they weren't able to impose their control. All those cases brought against journalists and others for insulting the presidency were also the result of the fact that the presidency was getting mocked and criticized as never before. 

The most significant change in Egyptian caricature since 2011 is the implicit permissibility of satirizing the president. Nevertheless, during President Mohamed Morsi’s year in office, the same penal code article maintained that “whoever insults the president… shall be imprisoned.” Yet, according to Judge Yussef Auf, it does not clearly stipulate what insulting the president means or what the precise penalty should be.[3] Additionally, nearly seventy other articles limit freedom of expression. These range from prohibitions against “insults” to the parliament, army, courts, and other public authorities, to injunctions against the reporting of false news. Nonetheless, mocking these institutions became a core part of cartooning even in government-run newspapers, in spite of—or because of—these regulations.  

 

A controversial magazine cover criticizing Morsi and the political/religious establishment that was never distributed on news stands, but went viral online. 

A controversial magazine cover criticizing Morsi and the political/religious establishment that was never distributed on news stands, but went viral online. 

Mubarak's last chuckle

Private newspaper Alyoum7 has been publishing a series of audio recordings on its website of Mubarak and some unknown voices (reportedly recorded by one of his doctors) in which the erstwhile president comments on events throughout the summer. The sound clips are crudely edited, creating a lot of awkward pauses where there probably were none. 

That being said, the voices sound over-rehearsed and sometimes border on hostages trying to keep calm and entertain a mad gunman.

Clip 1:

Mubarak and friends express admiration of el-Sisi. His unknown interlocutors tell lame jokes about the Brotherhood, eliciting gruff chuckles from the former president. 

Clip 2:

Mubarak and friends say the MB is stupid and crazy for going head to head (more like knee to head) against the military, the police and the people. One voice likens them to a mindless CSF soldier who just follows orders and can’t think for himself. They predict that things will calm down and fondly reminisce about Habib el-Adly’s good ol days when the Brothers were “collected.”

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Mubarak family worth hundreds of millions, not billions, investigators say

Mubarak family worth hundreds of millions, not billions, investigators say

Bradley Hope in The National, on a government report on Mubarak's wealth:

The report, a copy of which has been obtained by The National, reveals that Mubarak and his family have cash deposits of some US$300 million, as well as additional funds, properties and company stakes of undetermined value.

The only assets held specifically in the ex-president's name are a villa in the Red Sea resort of Sharm El Sheikh - number 211 located on 15,640 square metres of land - and a third-floor apartment located in the Mediterranean coast city of Marsa Matrouh.

Mubarak and his wife Suzanne also have unspecified amounts of "liquid funds" in accounts in the National Bank of Egypt, says the five-page report, dated October 16, 2011. The former first lady also has an account in the Paris-based bank, Societe Generale.

Read the whole thing, it's full of details. The total amount of funds believed to be stashed abroad by the Mubarak family and his aides: $1.2bn.

Hope also has a full list of Mubarak family assets here.

What Stratfor's Fred Burton thought of Mubarak

✚  What Stratfor's Fred Burton thought of Mubarak

From the Wikileaks trove, here's their VP for intelligence's take, on February 11 2011, the day Mubarak stepped down:

The real kicker in all this is that the only reason we don't have a 9/11 type incident happening every week in this country is because of dictators like Mubarak. He's kept his boot on the throat of the Brotherhood and every other radical Islamic group for some time now. Yes, he has probably thrown many people in prison for nothing more than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But he's been one of our staunchest allies in the GWOT and we'll start paying the price (with more attacks on US facilities) when he's gone. If I were him, I'd take my millions, head to Tahiti and  giggle at Obama as he struggles with the flood of attacks that are sure to  come.

You see what I mean when I wrote that Wikileaks' over-hyping of what Stratfor is is ridiculous?

[Thanks, other J.]

Last Days Of The Pharaoh

Last Days of the Pharoah

Bradley Hope writes:

I have just published a Kindle Single with Amazon.com, an E-book that is available through Amazon's cloud reader or on the Kindle/IPad/etc. The piece explores the last days of Mubarak's rule in Egypt through the eyes of some of the government officials that were in close contact with the former president. One of the most compelling voices is Hossam Badrawi, who was the last secretary general of the National Democratic Party and met Mubarak several times in the final week of his regime.

Others, like Mubarak's long-time make-up artist Mohammed Ashoub, simply reveal a side of the president that was hard to know being on the outside.

I just started reading it, and it has some great material on what was going on in the inner circle around Mubarak during the 18 days. At $1.99 it's a steal if you have a Kindle - or just use the Kindle App to read it on your computer as its short.

Hosni Mubarak, the man with no ideas

Dull and dependableSteve Cook, talking about his new book The Struggle for Egypt [Amazon], discusses Mubarak's legacy and failure:

Mubarak, having come of age during the era of the Free Officers and having witnessed Sadat’s assassination first-hand, saw the problems associated with trying to resolve Egypt’s underlying identity questions through some bold ideological vision, and opted for a strategy that he hoped would bind people to the regime through economic and social development. By official measures, Mubarak achieved a lot during his almost thirty-year reign. The World Bank data shows impressive results. The problem is that ideas matter. For Mubarak it was all about “stability for the sake of development” and anyone who dissented from his conception of stability was beaten into submission until they—along with a lot of others who felt the same way but were afraid to speak out—refused to be intimidated. That’s how you got January 25. This was not an uprising about economic grievances, though they played an important role in creating an environment of misery. Rather, people rose up because they wanted social justice, representative government and national dignity. Not surprisingly, these are common themes throughout late 19th-, 20th-, and early 21st-century Egyptian politics.

Of course Mubarak had to deal with tremendous population growth during his reign  — almost a doubling, from around 45m to 85m today. It's true he achieved some things in terms of development, but any other president would have too. In many respects he did not do enough, and I remember a nice turn of phrase used by a (tame) opposition figure a few years ago: "The problem with Egypt is that it never really recovered from the 1967 and 1973 wars." Sadat, and Mubarak who largely continued his legacy but in a more pragmatic manner, was supposed to have made the grand bargains with the US and Israel precisely to do that. The result, while impressive in some regards (a lot of improvements in infrastructure, public health, etc. — believe or not) was not enough: not only it could have been better and fairer, but it also came as a heavy price. Part of this is that he created, through dull leadership and strategies of de-politicization, an enormous moral and inspirational vacuum.

Mubarak's letter to court

SCAF head Hussein Tantawy, kissing Hosni Mubarak, 1980s or early 1990sFrom Mubarak’s memo to the court trying him, protests of innocence and the obligatory reference to foreign conspiracy. Sarah El Deeb reports for AP:

“The unjust accusations and the baseless allegations I am facing sadden me. I am not someone who would shed his people’s blood. I have spent my life defending them. Hosni Mubarak is not someone to smear his military honor with ill-gotten wealth,” the published letter said.

He is charged with complicity in the killing of nearly 900 protesters in the uprising that forced him out of office last year. If convicted, Mubarak could face the death penalty by hanging. Five of the former president’s top security officials face the same charges.

“Despite everything, I am totally confident in the fairness and justice of the Egyptian judiciary. I am totally confident in history’s judgment, and totally confident in the great Egyptian people’s judgment — free from the allegations of the tendentious and those seeking to sow sedition, and those receiving foreign funding.”

In the completely schizophrenic mindset of SCAF, the security services and the state media they control, the revolution is both a glorious day and an insidious plot. They like the part that got rid of Gamal Mubarak and his friends, settling a decade-long inner-regime clan war. But they still can’t stand the other, more important, part that wants all the regime gone. That schizophrenia is part and parcel of Mubarakism.

Suzanne Mubarak's memoirs

I would approach this story with caution – after all it was published in the trashy Rose al-Youssef – but I'd like to confirm some of these tidbits:

In “Egypt’s First Lady: 30 Years on the Throne of Egypt,” to be published this year, Mubarak says that the United States gave her and her family asylum. A special envoy from the United States, she wrote, arrived in Cairo in early February 2011 with all the documents required to have in order to leave Egypt, but her husband refused to leave.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Kuwait gave the Mubarak family the same offer. However, the author adds, all those asylum documents were taken from the family in the Red Sea city of Sharm al-Sheikh on February 11, 2011, the day the president stepped down.

In the memoirs, Mubarak recounts how she had a nervous breakdown when she knew she was to be arrested, which drove her to try to commit suicide through overdosing on sleeping pills.

She was later rescued and her husband conacted several countries and begged many officials to let her stay with him in the hospital. His wish was granted, provided that she does not leave the hospital.

I like the bit where she says her childhood dream was "to become a flight attendant." After all, she was married to a man whose hope for retirement was to run Egypt Air. And also this nugget:

Among the secrets Mubarak reveals in her memoirs is that her husband did not think that he would be able to leave the palace and was almost certain that he would be assassinated. That is why he asked the Presidential Guard not to leave him alone for one minute and even used to let them accompany him to the bathroom.

Update: Reader "S" writes in with a reminder – "AUC Press was on the verge of publishing her memoirs in time for the 2011 Cairo Book Fair and was copy editing them just as the January protests started... "

The Mubaraks' last hours in power

From an article in The Times of 18 January [behind an annoying paywall that doesn't even let you link] by Michael Binyon and James Hyder:

Based on insider accounts, The Times can reveal exclusively the chaotic final hours of the deposed President’s 30-year rule, and the successive months of decline as he languished in a tiny hospital room.
At his side throughout the tumultuous events was his wife, Suzanne, the daughter of a Welsh nurse and an Egyptian surgeon who, at the crucial moment of her husband’s resignation, kept Egypt and the rest of the world waiting as she sobbed uncontrollably on the floor of the presidential villa, refusing to leave.
Mrs Mubarak had joined her two sons, Gamal and Alaa, in the helicopter to take them to internal exile in Sharm el-Sheikh on the day that her husband was forced out of office. But as the blades were whirring, she leapt out and ran back to the villa.
Impatient officials suspected that she may have forgotten her jewellery or a favourite dress. In fact, she had returned home and broken down. The guards who finally breached protocol and burst into the villa found her prostrate on the floor and inconsolable with grief, surrounded by the trinkets and records of her lifetime.
The final hours of the regime are dramatically outlined in a new book by the former head of Egyptian television, who played a key role in persuading Mr Mubarak to quit and in drafting his farewell speech.
Abdel Latif el-Menawy says that the guards had to pick up the President’s wife and carry her round the house, her tears staining their shoulders as she collected the few possessions she could not bear to part with.
“In her grief she kept repeating the same line, over and over, ‘... They had a reason ...’ When she had composed herself enough, she turned to the guards and asked in a panic, ‘Do you think they can get in here? Please ... don’t let them come here! Please, don’t let them destroy it, please. Look, you can stay here, stay in the villa ... please, protect it!’”
All this time Mr el-Menawy was waiting in his office for the order to broadcast the tape that would announce the President’s resignation. “Though no one knew it at the time, the whole country was waiting for Suzanne Mubarak as she wept in her empty palace,” he says. 

The rest has been put up here by Abdel Latif Menawy, and includes details on Mubarak's post-power depression, his minor heart attack, cancer of the intestine, brief coma and more – including an account of how Gamal Mubarak changed his father's third speech and how Egyptian intelligence and Anas al-Feki negotiated the president's departure. I suspect Menawy inflates his own role and omits more from this, but it's interesting to see a detailed account emerge nonetheless.

On vacation in Torah

Field Marshall Tantawi (the senior army man in charge of the country) testified in Mubarak's trial this morning. We don't know what he said, because the court session are closed and there is a gag order on the press (how can what happened during the revolution be a state secret?).

I was in a cab listening to a state TV reporter excitedly (not) report on the proceedings, when my driver burst out: "They'll never be held to account!" He said his mother lives near Torah prison and from her balcony they can see the Mubarak sons and cronies being held there hang out in the courtyard. He says they have laptops, cell phones, play soccer, have visitors, get food deliveries.. I can't confirm his account of course, but there have been similar stories in the press.

"Pasha on the outside, pasha on the inside," he said. "It's Sharm El Sheikh in Torah." If only the were treated like regular prisoners, he said -- beaten, humiliated, made to go hungry and sleep on the floor -- then they'd confess and tell us where the money they stole is. 

Podcast #11: The embassy and the trial

In this week's podcast, AFP reporter Samer Al Atrush and journalist Steve Negus join Ursula Lindsey. We discuss the clashes of Friday 9 September, in which protester defaced the Ministry of Interior, broke into the Israeli embassy and fought the police, and ask: why did the army and police seem to stand back? And has the protest movement let itself in for a crackdown?

We also discuss Mubarak's trial (for ordering police to shoot at demonstrators, and for corruption) which so far has offered little in the way of a smoking gun and has been marred by chaos. Samer gives eye-witness accounts of the clashes around the Israeli embassy and of courtroom shenanigans.  

Links for this week's episode:

 (P.S.: we apologize to the poor sound quality of this week's podcast, due to technical problems and a broken microphone these were unavoidable.)

The Arabist Podcast #11

Decoding Mubarak's trial

I have a short piece in the Guardian as part of their "decoding the news" series, in which I adress why the trial is no longer televised, what's expected in the witness testimonies, and what the clashes outside the courtoom are about. Here's the bit about the witnesses:

Initial witnesses will focus on the orders being given by Mubarak and other senior officials to deal with the mass protests that began on 25 January. What the prosecution will try to prove is that Mubarak approved of shoot-to-kill orders, the deployment of snipers, and other measures taken by security forces before Mubarak stepped down. The time period that will be most intensely examined is between 25 January and 28 January (when the police retreated from the streets and the military deployed) and the "Battle of the Camel" in Tahrir Square on February 2-3, when pro-Mubarak thugs fought (and lost) a battle to regain the square from protesters. Those who testified today are part of a group of senior ministry of interior officers who were in the ministry's operations room in the first days of the uprising.

There is some controversy over who might be summoned: among the witnesses Mubarak's lawyer wants to testify is Egypt's current interim ruler, minister of defence Mohammed Hussein Tantawi. If the already unpopular Tantawi was in the loop in the decision-making process over the repression of protesters, it could make his position untenable.

Read the rest here.

Egypt: The Sharia debate... in 1985

Hosni Mubarak in 1985

Here is a little item from history worth reconsidering in light of the growing Islamist-secularist debate in Egypt over the future constitution and the application of Sharia (referenced in Ursula’s hilarious post yesterday). From a Wikileaks State Dept. cable dated from March 1985, we get a little insight in how the American Embassy in Cairo saw Egyptian politics: a democratizing Mubarak set against retrogade political foes.

¶2. BEGIN SUMMARY. MOMENTUM IS BEGINNING TO BUILD TOWARD A MAY DEBATE IN THE PEOPLES ASSEMBLY ON ISLAMIC SHARIA (KORANIC LAW). IN RECENT DAYS, KEY OPPOSITION FIGURES FUAD SIRAJ AL-DIN (CHAIRMAN OF THE NEW WAFD PARTY) AND OMAR TALMASSANI (GENERAL GUIDE OF THE MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD) APPEARED BEFORE THE ASSEMBLY’S RELIGIOUS AFFAIRS COMMITTEE TO EXPRESS SUPPORT FOR PURGING OF EXISTING LEGISLATION NOT IN ACCORDANCE WITH SHARIA. THE SPEAKER OF THE ASSEMBLY, RIFAAT EL MAHGOUB, WHILE SUPPORTING THE OVERALL OBJECTIVE, LEFT DELIBERATELY VAGUE THE TIMING AND EXTENT OF THE PURGE. THE ADVOCATES DOUBTLESS KNOW THE PROCESS OF IMPLEMENTING “FULL SHARIA” WILL BE PROTRACTED; INDEED, MUBARAK IS PERCEIVED AS UNCOMPROMISING IN OPPOSITION TO “THE FULL IMPLEMENTATION OF SHARIA.” IN ADVANCE OF THE MAY DEBATE PUBLIC DISCUSSION OF, AND MANEUVERING ABOUT, SHARIA ISSUES IS ALREADY UNDERWAY. END SUMMARY.

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Photo of the day

I have to admit I was skeptical we'd see these images of Mubarak in court.

I agree with this take:

The moment Mubarak received his legal summons yesterday, officially accusing him of said crimes, the most important nail in the coffin of Middle-Eastern cult-of-personality and leader-worship was finally hammered, and would only be hammered further by the live telecast of the trial. Leaders are human beings, just like the rest of us, and the same laws that apply to us apply to them as well. If they do break them, they will suffer like any of us would. And just because of that, almost regardless of how the trials proceed, many of us here feel more even empowered and more dignified as citizens than as we did even on February 11th as well. And it's a watershed moment for an entire region struggling with corrupt, bloodthirsty and oppressive regimes, many of which are starting to believe they managed their way out of the Arab Spring. As the leading figures of those regimes received the news that Mubarak, one of the most powerful, oldest reigning, and once untouchable among them, was officially served his legal summons, all those men knew that the end of life as they were used to it has finally come, forever. Governments are for the people, not the other way around; and the people owntheir countries, not the regimes.

A great day.

The Wiles of Mubarak

Tonight's speech by Mubarak is a reminder of how much the course of a revolution against an autocracy is shaped by the personal quirks of the autocrat. Here are a few thoughts from my end what calculations or miscalculations might have been going through Mubarak's head...

* Tone-deafness: Mubarak genuinely thought that he could defuse the situation with a hat-tip to the protesters, and that his transfer of powers would satisfy the protesters. He may also have thought back to his Feb 2 address, where he stirred up some genuine sympathy and regained the initiative, and was trying to repeat the performance. However, he so badly mangled his speech, and struck such an arrogant tone, that he made things worse.

* Cussedness: Mubarak projected arrogance and intransigence so as to call the bluffs of everyone -- the protesters, the Americans, and presumably now the military -- who are pushing him to leave. Maybe he allowed expectations to be raised, so as to make the blow fall that much harder. If you can't get rid of me after this, he is saying, then you can't get rid of me until I'm ready to go. Show your hand, or give up.

* Worse is better: Mubarak wanted to stir things up, to provoke a march on the palace and possibly trigger some violence. The regime had its greatest success undermining the uprising when the situation was at its most unstable. The return to normalcy on the other hand this week provided the opportunity for people to come together in the workplace, remember what they really dislike about the stagnant and corrupt status quo, and go on strike. So, he thought he might end the normalcy, rekindle fears of long-lasting anarchy, and put pressure on the demonstrators to quit with what concessions they have already won.