The accusations of corruption within the ruling Egyptian National Democratic Party (NDP) manifested themselves in two very different ways this summer. In July an Egyptian court stunned the Arab world when it acquitted NDP member Mamdouh Ismail, the owner of the 35-year-old ferry boat, Salam Boccacio 98, that sank off the shore of Egypt killing one thousand low -income Egyptians on their way back to their home country. Even though a parliamentary investigation found “a wicked collusion” between the boat operator and the Egyptian Commission of Maritime Safety that should have prevented the ferry from operating because it failed to meet minimum safety requirements, no person from either side was indicted.
The tragedy was compounded by the fact that most of those who perished were returning with savings that they earned while working abroad; savings that their families were eagerly anticipating to alleviate their poverty. Among the acquitted were three employees of the ferry boat company along with the owner’s son who fled Egypt with his father upon hearing the news of the sinking in 2006. Many doubted that the court would find the latter guilty as both the prosecutor and ferry boat owner were officials appointed by the Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
Among the numerous examples that illustrate how being a parliamentary member of the NDP brings with it many opportunities and windfall profits is the case of Ezz Steel. The Chairman of the company, Ahmad Ezz happens to head the influential NDP’s Committee of Organisational and Membership Affairs. The billionaire’s company reported a considerable jump in net profits to $191 million in the first half of 2008, up 63 per cent from the same period last year despite the fact that fuel prices have increased significantly. This may be due to the fact that the NDP heavily subsidises fuel to the tune of $11 billion a year, based on the recommendation of the budget committee that is also led by Mr Ezz. The subsidies contribute to the steel giant’s hold on 75 per cent of the steel production sector, a figure the NDP states is “not considered a monopoly”.
The list of names of parliamentary officials who have been accused of benefiting financially from their political affiliation in various ways is only growing. In fact, so attractive was the prospect of joining the NDP that the last elections in 2005 saw a rush by scores of Egyptian businessmen to enter parliament on the NDP ticket. Among them was Dr Hani Surour, an MP and the deputy chairman of the NDP’s Economic Affairs Committee who this summer was also acquitted of the charges of supplying Egyptian public hospitals with “200,000 contaminated blood bags infected with bacteria and fungi likely to cause cancer and hepatitis”. No wonder Transparency International rankings ties Egypt with Burkina Faso and Albania in the corrupt states index.
After this summer’s acquittals of Mr Ismail and Dr Surour, one could be forgiven for forming the impression that NDP membership offers a degree of immunity. That was until one of them crossed the border and allegedly committed a crime on foreign soil where the NDP is unable to pull the necessary strings.
The arrest of billionaire businessman Hisham Talaat Moustafa on charges of ordering the murder of the Lebanese singer Suzan Tamim in Dubai was an unprecedented step forward in the history of the country. So much so that fellow businessmen and NDP members lobbied unsuccessfully in order to keep Mr Moustafa’s immunity from being revoked, perhaps because of the serious precedent it established. The truth is if this heinous crime had taken place in many other Middle Eastern states Mr Moustafa might not have been indicted, along with the former Egyptian State Security officer Mohsen el Sukkari whom he allegedly paid $2 million to carry out the execution.
Dubai Police aren’t just any police force after all. Fresh from their investigations into corruption among officials within their own emirate, the Dubai police force put their skills into practice to investigate the murder of Ms Tamim. If the alleged killer and his backer had done their homework they would have learned for example that the Dubai Police have been consistently undergoing rigorous training in criminal behaviour and strategic planning conducted by the FBI Academy. They would have learned that Dubai Police are the very first in the Arab world to use DNA testing in criminal investigations as well as electronic fingerprinting. And they would have learned to keep their murderous hands away from my country – because in Dubai, crime doesn’t pay.
This article first appeared in TheNational.ae newspaper on September 7th 2008