Every time audio leaks related to the regime in Egypt are published or broadcast and affect President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi as a person or one of his aides, the matter makes headlines and trends on social media for days. Egyptian activist and You Tuber Abdullah Al-Sharif broadcast such a leak a few days ago. It was the latest in a series of audio and video leaks detailing the scandals of this regime since it took power through a military coup against the first elected civilian president in July 2013.
As a journalist, I worked on researching, preparing and presenting a leak from Sisi’s office in 2015. The latest leak prompted a number of questions, the most important of which was about the extreme comfort with which the “star”, Major General Farouk Al-Qadi, was talking to an unknown person called Mervat. Why would such a senior officer who works as an advisor to the presidency speak with such naivety to the point that he admitted receiving bribes and being involved in corruption and the waste of public money? The man clearly did not know that he was being recorded, otherwise we would not have heard even one word of what he said.
It also seemed to me that Ms Mervat was asking tricky questions to get confessions from Al-Qadi. Some of her comments on specific figures or phrases mentioned by him raised questions about the nature of the leak and how real it was. None of this detracts from the fact that a large group of Sisi’s men are involved in major corruption because there is no transparency in Egyptian politics and the Public Prosecution Service and the judiciary are politicised in any matter that serves the interests of the regime.
The amount of money mentioned by Al-Sharif on You Tube is $4.3 million. That’s how much just one army officer and presidential advisor in Egypt was able to loot from the public purse. It’s a staggering amount in the context of the data of the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAMPAS) relating to the high rates of poverty and extreme poverty in Egypt. According to CAMPAS statistics, the average per capita income that is considered to be below the poverty line in Egypt is about $47, meaning that Sisi’s advisor and his $4.3 million could, instead of stealing the money, have prevented around 95,000 Egyptians from living below the poverty line. If we applied that sum to those living in extreme poverty — with around $32 per capita income — then Al-Qadi could have rescued 137,000 Egyptian citizens from their plight.
When Sisi announced the Tahya Misr (“Long Live Egypt”) fund in August 2014, he said that it would be under his direct supervision and would solve Egypt’s problems. However, in this leak, his advisor completely undermined him. Army officers, said Al-Qadi, take from the Tahya Misr fund without paying anything into it; and that Mervat could get a villa in the new administrative capital for only $48,000 instead of $382,000, with the balance being paid by the “Long Live Egypt” fund.
In the past few weeks in Britain, Boris Johnson and his government have been facing a major crisis due to allegations that a party was held in No. 10 Downing Street, the prime minister’s office, during a complete pandemic lockdown last Christmas. Questions have been asked in parliament and there are daily articles and reports in the media. Calls have been made for Johnson to resign because, it is alleged, he did not respect his obligations as prime minister.
Imagine if such a leak about one of the prime minister’s advisors had happened in Britain. There would be an immediate and direct investigation into the issue. The people involved would be invited to appear before MPs to be questioned. Legal proceedings and consequences would have been discussed in the media, and there would be resignations and dismissals. The media and public would be kept informed all along thanks to the transparency of the process.
In Egypt under Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, however, there was no reaction from the regime, the Public Prosecution Service, parliament or the media; it was business as usual. The corruption was nothing out of the ordinary. So much so, that instead of an inquiry into the obvious wrongdoing, the regime and its tame media organs launched a hashtag campaign online blaming the Muslim Brotherhood for leaking details of the corruption because the movement wants to overthrow Sisi.
The message was simple: don’t blame the regime and the armed forces for their corruption; blame the Brotherhood for exposing the corruption. That provided no consolation for the poor and desperately poor in Egypt. It definitely was business as usual.