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Egypt is continuing to seize opposition funds and assets

Egyptian police forces [file photo]
Egyptian police forces stand guard outside a court [File photo]

Decisions made by the Egyptian government to seize the assets of individuals, companies, charities, schools, hospitals and newspapers tend to ignore decrees that such moves are invalid. This has been the case since the formation of the Inventory, Seizure and Management Committee of Muslim Brotherhood Funds targeting the leadership and staff of the movement, which was ousted from government by a military coup in 2013.

However, the work of the Committee has been expanded greatly, and now affects many personalities and companies that have no relationship with the Brotherhood whatsoever. Such measures have reached such a level that questions are being asked about the regime’s desire to nationalise certain institutions and acquire their financial assets in order to cover the deficit in the national budget and solve the Egypt’s economic crises.

During the first eight months of 2014, an official source in the Muslim Brotherhood told Anadolu News Agency that the authorities had seized “342 companies, 1,107 civil associations and 174 schools belonging to the Brotherhood as well as the funds of 1,441 first, second and third rank leaders.”

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From its formation by the Egyptian government in 2013 to the beginning of 2016, the Committee had seized Brotherhood funds totalling 5.5 billion Egyptian pounds (about $695 million), according to the Committee Chairman at that time, Ezzat Khamis.

According to press statements released by Khamis, his Committee seized the funds of 1,370 people; confiscated 460 cars and 318 acres of agricultural land belonging to individuals; and seized 1,166 associations, 112 schools, 43 hospitals, a medical association with 27 branches in Egypt, as well as 65 companies.”

Surprisingly, such seizure decisions affected the well-known businessman Safwan Thabet, Chairman of the Board of Directors and CEO of Juhayna Food Industries, Egypt’s leading dairy and juice producer, as well as the former footballer Mohamed Aboutrika, who played for Al-Ahly Sporting Club and the Egyptian national team. Aboutrika was accused of opening a company to be used as a cover for Brotherhood activities. He denied this and obtained decrees to cancel the confiscation procedures.

Under a new Chairman, Mohammed Yasser Aboul Fotouh, the Committee, issued new seizure decisions in 2016 that affected 20 companies and 14 individuals, under the pretext of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood. In 2017, seizure decisions affected 150 companies in various fields, again under the pretext that they belonged to the movement. Unofficial estimates put their capital in excess of 2.5 billion Egyptian pounds. Among those seized by the regime were Karma Trading and Engineering, RadioShack, Delta RS for Trading, Computer Shop for Distribution, Mobile Shop for Commercial Agencies, Cairo Gate for Publishing and Distribution and Misr El-Arabia Company.

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The Administrative Court of Justice has invalidated seizure decisions on 274 occasions. This has put the Committee under great pressure, pushing it to appeal against the court’s judgements before a non-specialised court, the Court of Urgent Matters. This court has a controversial role, as it issues decrees in political cases regarding which irrevocable rulings have been issued.

In an attempt to immunise the Committee against legal and other attacks — it has been criticised by human rights groups, for example — the Egyptian House of Representatives hastily approved a few months ago a law regulating its procedures by establishing an independent committee made up of seven judges of the Court of Appeal who are appointed by the President of the Republic after the approval of the Supreme Judicial Council. They carry out procedures related to the enforcement of decrees issued against a group, an entity or a person accused of terrorism.

The new law opened the door for the first time to the seizure of “Brotherhood funds” and their transfer to the State Treasury, not simply their seizure and management. The Committee no longer has to wait for final decrees condemning the rightful owners on terrorism-related charges.

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In the first practical implementation of “Law No. 22 of 2018”, the Committee issued new seizure and confiscation decisions a few days ago, involving 1,589 individuals, 118 companies, 1,133 civil associations, 104 schools, 69 hospitals, 33 websites and a TV channel, affecting businessmen, journalists, bankers and human rights activists. However, this time the accusations shifted from belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood to “providing logistic support and financial amounts on a monthly basis spent on terrorist activities and operations carried out by the Muslim Brotherhood’s bodies, namely the two terrorist movements of Hasm and Liwa Al-Thawra [Revolutionary Brigade], facilitating the two movements members’ access to weapons, manufacturing explosives and providing a shelter and a safe haven to hide them and places to receive military training.”

The seizure covers all funds, accounts and bank balances in Egyptian currency or foreign currencies, deposits of any kind, shares, securities, bonds, lands, real estate, agricultural lands and movables, whether owned directly or indirectly.

We do not know exactly how many individuals, corporations and institutions have had their assets seized, or how much is involved. Although nobody knows where the money has gone or how it is being managed— and for whose benefit — pro-government media put the total figure at 60 billion Egyptian pounds.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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