Earlier this week Egyptian police arrested the father of popular YouTuber Abdullah El-Sherif after he broadcast a phone call between two presidential advisers appearing to show one of them accepting bribes in exchange for granting the other exclusive tender on upcoming construction projects.
In the leaked recording Major General Farouk Al-Qadi offers adviser Mervat Mohamed Ali two million Egyptian pounds ($127,000) for every project she awards to the Armed Forces Engineering Authority, a Ministry of Defence agency which is responsible for major construction projects in the country. Since 2014 the engineering authority has been awarded $31 billion worth of projects in Egypt.
Two years ago, whistleblower Mohamed Ali accused Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, his wife, and other top military officials of stealing money from construction companies working with the army and of investing in huge vanity projects whilst the rest of the country lives in poverty. Ali’s personal construction company was commissioned to build a five-star hotel and a palace in Alexandria.
Also in the phone call, Al-Qadi offers Mervat a villa in the new administrative capital worth six million Egyptian pounds ($382,000) and assures her she only has to pay 750,000 Egyptian pounds ($47,750) for it in instalments and that the rest will be paid for by the state.
As a partner in a law and legal firm Al-Qadi adds the names of top army officers into contracts he draws up, to “terrorise” opponents, the audio recording revealed.
The leaked phone call, if proved to be genuine, corroborates long-held allegations that the president’s advisers not only pass projects directly to the army without them having to bid for them, but that they take huge bribes in exchange for doing so and exploit their position of power.
Egyptian authorities have, predictably, denied the veracity of the phone call. The state-run newspaper Al-Ahram ran an article to say that authorities had arrested three people, two of them for impersonating high-ranking officials in a fabricated, leaked phone call, and the third for selling a staged leak to a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.
On Monday the Interior Ministry released a statement to say that national security “exposed the truth of the fabricated leak attributed to one of the state institutions and arrested the participants in the phone conversation who impersonated state officials.”
It also said that the broadcast aimed to compromise the security of the country, spread false news and rumours with the aim of creating confusion among citizens and distort the image of state institutions.
The interior minister also denied that they had even arrested Abdullah’s father and said instead that he had been summoned so that they could ask him about money he had received from abroad.
On Twitter, El-Sherif said that his 74-year-old father was arrested to “shut him up.” Arresting the relatives of outspoken Egyptians abroad is a common tactic used by the regime to force them into silence.
“Egypt’s wealth is looted by these thieves whilst the poor go to hell,” Ghada Naguib wrote on Twitter in response to the leaked audio. Naguib now lives in Turkey in exile after playing a major role in the 2011 uprising and attracting the ire of the authorities. Naguib and her husband’s family have also been targeted and arrested back in Egypt.
Ola Qaradawi has been held in pretrial detention since July 2017 simply because she is the daughter of the Islamic scholar Yusuf Qaradawi who opposed the coup. The family of Egyptian asylee Aly Hussin Mahdy, who lives in the US, were arrested in Egypt at the beginning of February after he posted a series of videos online criticising the government back home.
El-Sherif’s family were targeted in March last year after he broadcast a video of army soldiers torturing and mutilating a young man’s corpse in the Sinai Peninsula and then setting fire to it.
At the time, the TV presenter announced on Twitter that army militia had stormed his father’s house in Alexandria and arrested his two brothers, Amr and Ahmed Al-Sherif. According to the blogger himself, they remain in jail today.
His father has, however, now been released.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.