Ibrahim Arjani: Sinai’s warlord seeks sports washing by sponsoring Al-Ahly FC

On the evening of 19 January, there was a celebration held at the headquarters of Al-Ahly Club attended by the “notorious” businessman, Ibrahim Al-Arjani, to sign with the largest club in Egypt and Africa (and in the presence of its board of directors and chairman of the board Mahmoud Al-Khatib) a contract called a “strategic alliance.” Its goal is to sponsor the club’s Al-Arjani Group, starting with its most important tournament in a floundering season, coincidentally with the Club World Cup in Morocco.

Governmental and controlled private media said this strategic alliance would bear fruit, especially in football, media production, sports services and facilities. It is still being determined whether the group will take over the largest project in the club’s history, building a private stadium.

The event ends with the gifting of the President of Al-Ahly, Al-Arjani, a decoration, a club’s flag and a football shirt, which makes the media consider it as the beginning of a “close and extended cooperation within the framework of strategic partnerships with large national institutions and entities, in a way that contributes to the advancement of Egyptian sport.” These developments sparked widespread anger among football supporters. And if the matter turned the interactions between the football fans into football fanaticism, the criticisms were still aimed at what was described as a “warlords” takeover of the public sphere under the present regime.

A Triple process

The rise of the current regime after July 2013 was associated with several different personalities in different fields, starting with the Student Union headed by the so-called “Sisi’s spoiled boy” Mohamed Badran, or even in the central movement in the street like the Tamarrod (mutiny) movement, whether it was Mahmoud Badr or Mohamed Abdel Aziz. Badran, who is associated with the intelligence services, and who participated in writing the current constitution in 2014, talked in press statements three months after the most prominent shot of him on board the president’s ship sailing at the new Suez Canal about his enjoyment to compete the prominent businessman Naguib Sawiris, as a financier of a political party.

This former head of the “Nation Future Party” and one of its founders who recently returned to the country to reposition himself in Egyptian political life was considered a “centrist” with these statements, which the new regime does not accept. His long-standing desire forced Badran to leave after about a year before he was allowed to return recently in a tightly controlled environment and a minor party before he was also overthrown into a smaller entity. The most prominent idea was to prevent political elites from having an opinion even if they tend to adhere to the regime. Still, Badran wants political elites with flexible views, as it is clear to be “no opinion” at all. The regime has swept away political life by closing or besieging traditional parties from left to right parties, forcing traditional political figures to either remain silent or travel abroad. The regime also arrests and makes harsh political prison sentences, which makes the Nation’s Future Party dominate parliament, with figures such as Abdulaziz, Badr and others.

On the economic side, the current regime did not abandon its strategy, starting with businessman Salah Diab, owner of Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper (linked to the previous government), to the harassment of the Sawiris family. The last example was Safwan Thabet and his son, who recently got out of prison after a resistance of two years, refusing to sell their company. The strategy was threefold. First, destroying political elites of various orientations, along with the economic elites and the media associated with them, so what is next?

The system makes its environment.

To control everything, the regime’s strategy was quadrupled. As we mentioned previously, the Nation Future Party is in control, which makes political ascension of non-political personalities who not only had not the slightest relationship with politics but could be described as non-opinion personalities and favoured by the current regime. Also, United Media Services, owned by intelligence services, acquired one media outlet after another until it seized almost the majority of private media. There is also control over government media, which made the United Media services an empire without a competitor, followed by the same services controlling Egyptian Art through its company, Synergy. And on the same strategy, the army used to enter the market after another using its military influence and presence in the heart of the regime, which makes the regime’s business people and its elite arising from this political environment.

In Sinai and during the years of the war on terror, the head of the Sinai Tribal Union, Ibrahim al-Arjani, arose from that war. His rise was not a traditional step for business people but rather a sudden rise, as an empire possessed by him suddenly appeared. The man whose name was associated with the president’s son, who helps him control the General Intelligence, suddenly seemed to have an empire or, as it is called, the Al-Arjani group, which is a partner of the regime internally and externally and is considered as an ambassador of the “Decent Life” initiative, and one of the warlords who will help the Armed forces in the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip.

In June 2017, there was a presidential pardon for the businessman Hisham Talaat Mustafa, who was in prison convicted of killing the Lebanese singer Suzanne Tamim. This pardon was a significant shift in the real estate market and gave the president control over real estate investment funds based on real estate assets. This makes the regime also distribute investments as it wants. It would not be strange for al-Arjani to have so much influence, and he was initially described as a “warlord” when we find one of the country’s thugs, Sabri Nakhnoukh, being released with a presidential pardon in 2018. He is now described as a businessman honoured by government ministries while continuing in his field, as the regime governs “the thug world” with his help. His influence escalates at the expense of former men in sports, such as Mortada Mansour, as when they disagreed in 2019, Naknoukh’s insulted the President of Zamalek Club. In less than a year later, Mansour was arrested and referred to the Public Prosecution, and he was suspended for more than two years. He will return to the presidency of Zamalek with his well-known attacks and insults, but this time limited to the football players Said Abdel Hafeez and Mahmoud Kahraba!

Your time has come

Although it had no competitors from within, that regime had the strongest competitor from the Gulf countries. Indeed, they expanded their economic, artistic and sports investments in Egypt, starting with personalities such as Turki Al-Sheikh, head of the Saudi Sports and Entertainment Authority, to Tahnoun bin Zayed, the Emirati godfather of “money” diplomacy, to his compatriot Salem Al Shammasi and others. Recently on the economic level, the regime spending on infrastructure projects which makes its new economic elites analyzed above gathered around the Engineering Authority, the General Intelligence, and the rest of the security services companies, benefit and grow, and this despite a series of loans that ended with the need for more of them.

The regime has become besieged by foreign creditors, whether from the International Monetary Fund or the Gulf, allies of the government itself, who said that the expenses went too far, and decided that new loans will be on the condition that the State (the army) leave the economy, along with several other conditions. The conditions created an economic and political crisis between the regime’s apparatus and the Gulf countries. These tensions have been visible in the media recently and have even reached the Saudi ministers or the parliament of countries such as Kuwait. It is also visible in sports, as the Pyramids Sports Club threatened to withdraw sports investments from Egypt.

The new conditions attempt to block the army’s business in the Egyptian economy, so what is the solution?

It seems clear that there is a possible tendency for the army to nominally exit from these investments while making way for its men who have arisen from this political and economic environment, but what is more interesting is that Al-Arjani, Naknukh, and Hisham Talaat Mustafa will be the clear front for that formal substitution. Thus, it will not be a “civil washing” for a man like Al-Arjani, but more than a huge celebration and a strategic alliance with the most famous club in Egypt or Hisham Talaat Mustafa signing a cooperation protocol with the Ministry of Education. This is why we can say that Naknoukh bides its time.