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Corruption in Egypt – its guards are its thieves!

January 31, 2024 at 6:52 pm

A man counts Egyptian pounds at currency exchange shop in downtown Cairo. [KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images]

“Its guards are its thieves” is a popular proverb used by common people in Egypt. It is often used when uncovering corruption cases, especially in this most populous Arab country, located between the most corrupt countries in the world.

In terms of corruption, Egypt ranked 130 out of 180 countries, according to Transparency International, based in Berlin. According to the annual index for 2022, Egypt is in the red zone, which is the most dangerous in terms of the spread of corruption rates.

The General Information Services, affiliated with the Egyptian Presidency, lists many government agencies in charge of overseeing accountability and combating bribery and abuse of power. The most prominent of these agencies are the Administrative Control Authority (an intelligence agency), the Central Auditing Organisation, the General Authority for Financial Supervision, the General Authority for Export and Import Control, the Pharmaceutical Control and Research Authority, the Authority for Oversight of Artistic Works and the Authority for Industrial control.

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Authorities concerned with combating corruption in Egypt include the National Anti-Corruption Committee, the Illicit Gains Agency, the Anti-Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing Unit, the Administrative Prosecution, the General Administration for Combating Public Money Crimes (Ministry of Interior), the Consumer Protection Agency and other agencies, bringing the total number to more than 26 regulatory bodies. This had prompted the former Egyptian Minister of Local Development, Hani Mahmoud, to express his astonishment, saying in a televised statement, years ago, that he was surprised to see the number of oversight bodies that monitor corruption in Egypt, pointing out that it exceeds the number in any other country, and shows a clear weakness in Government administrative apparatus.

Crimes of corruption

Despite this huge anti-corruption apparatus, the Egyptian media is full of news of the arrests of government employees and officials in various ministries and revealing suspicious deals in billions of dollars, in a country heavily burdened with poverty and debt.

Perhaps revealing that Palestinians in the Gaza Strip were forced to pay bribes to Egyptian officials so they could pass through the Rafah Border Crossing could shed some light on the growing extent of corruption in Egypt.

For example, the investigation authorities are looking into the case in which the Supply Ministry Deputy for Price Regulation and Distribution, along with other ministry officials, were involved in receiving bribes to overlook tampering with commodities and withholding them from the markets, in the sugar corruption scandal.

In addition, a few days ago, the Egyptian authorities busted the largest corruption network of officials in the Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation, for receiving millions of pounds and a villa as bribes, in exchange for rushing business deals and financial dues to the owners of companies working in the rehabilitation of canals and water drains.

Egyptian courts are looking into the case of bribery corruption in Aswan, in which the head of the Aswan Drinking Water Company, a governmental company, was involved in receiving bribes in exchange for rushing through the procedures for awarding tenders for the work of constructing, replacing and renewing water networks.

Last November, the Administrative Control Authority announced the arrest of a government official who tried to pressure an investor into giving him a bribe in exchange for approving procedures to transfer a plot of land allocated to his company worth 50 million pounds (more than 1.6 million dollars).

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The Egyptian courts are also looking into case No. 7933 of 2023, Katameya Felonies department, in which a policeman and another official in the Traffic Department (Ministry of Interior), are accused of forming a gang that forges papers of impounded vehicles, seizes them and then sells them.

Corruption has reached abroad, as it was revealed that Senator Robert Menendez, Chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, received hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes in exchange for aid to the Egyptian government, before stepping down from his position last September.

Until now, the fate of the private plane that departed from Cairo International Airport to Zambia, carrying 5 Egyptians, reportedly including officials, is not clear. Passengers were in possession of about $5.7 million in cash, 5 pistols, 126 rounds of ammunition and 602 gold bars weighing 127 kilograms, last August.

Big decline

In 2014, Egypt launched the National Anti-Corruption Strategy. This, by itself, is not strange, but what is strange is that, since the launch of that strategy, Egypt has fallen behind on the corruption index, as it had ranked better 10 years ago. In 2012, the year that followed the 25 January Revolution, Egypt ranked 118.

In 2013, the ranking improved to 114, then it jumped 20 places at once, ranking 94 in 2014. However, in 2022, it fell 36 places, falling to the position of 130.

To make matters worse, officials in charge of enforcing the law against the corruption mafia have been involved in corruption. This was clear in the big bribery case of 2023, case number 4040, tried at the Supreme State Security Felonies department, in which the director of the Illicit Gains Department, a Ministry of Interior’s affiliate, was charged with receiving bribes. This person is responsible for examining financial disclosure statements, but he decided to betray his job and, along with others, asked for bribes in exchange for letting customs deals and transactions fall through.

In addition, the Criminal Court is looking into a gang made up of an official at Nasser Social Bank (governmental bank), an official at the Ministry of Justice, a former police officer and others, who planned to seize a huge property building and land in central Cairo worth 200 million pounds (about 6.5 million dollars).

Last year, a presidential decision was issued to dismiss two judges, one of them on charges of exploiting influence and trafficking antiquities, and the second on charges of serious violations and practicing commercial business, in violation of judicial traditions and customs.

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Therefore, parliamentarian, Abdel Moneim Imam, received great support on social media when he shouted under the dome of Parliament, saying, “Egypt does not suffer from lack of money, but rather from an increasing number of thieves.”

The cost of corruption

There is no official estimate of the scale and cost of corruption in Egypt, despite the dozens of regulatory bodies, and the Egyptian government’s launch of the third phase of its national anti-corruption strategy (2023-2030) last month.

The head of the Egyptian Centre for Transparency and Integrity, Shehata Mohamed Shehata, estimated years ago that Egypt loses about 37 billion dollars annually because of corruption, according to Al-Araby Al-Jadeed.

Meanwhile, a previous official estimate issued by a government official was 600 billion pounds (about 67.6 billion dollars), in just 4 years, according to statements by the former head of the Central Auditing Organisation, Hisham Genena, who was dismissed from his position in March 2016.

Genena faced abuse after he accused members of sovereign and security authorities of being involved in corruption cases. He was arrested on charges of spreading false news and was sentenced to one year in prison.

Since the dismissal of Genena, the Central Auditing Organisation has been absent, after Counselor, Hisham Badawi, assumed its leadership, amid criticism of his affiliation to the National Security Agency. Badawi was the Attorney-General of the Supreme State Security Prosecutions, and he had supervised the investigation of major corruption cases of staff in the late President Hosni Mubarak’s regime, which later ended in acquittal.

Only 30 points

Out of a score of 100, determined by the annual transparency assessment, Egypt received only 30, coming equal with Djibouti and Mauritania. This means that Egypt, under President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, is going from bad to worse.

Observers say this decline is due to reducing the powers of regulatory agencies, granting El-Sisi the right to dismiss their heads without Parliament’s approval, preventing the media from publishing any details related to corruption, prosecuting opponents and arresting journalists on charges of spreading false news and the lack of a law protecting whistleblowers of corruption and its witnesses. In addition, more and more projects are being implemented without feasibility studies, and are awarded work through direct order, which is a privilege that companies affiliated with the army benefited from. These companies’ contracts are immune against claims of invalidation.

Army companies are not subject to any independent or civilian supervision, which deprives Egyptians of access to the information necessary to evaluate the costs and beneficiaries of publicly funded projects, despite receiving a disproportionate share of public revenues, according to Human Rights Watch.

According to a political expert, who requested to remain anonymous, Egypt is moving between the two models of the administration’s corruption and administration by corruption. This can be considered at the forefront of the strong reasons for the exacerbation of economic crises, high prices and the deterioration of the local currency. The expert pointed to frightening stories about corruption reaching a depth of State institutions. These include stories about how some defendants pay millions to get judicial rulings of acquittal and how Palestinians pay thousands of dollars to exit the Rafah Crossing and, between the two stories, are other frightening stories about human trafficking, antiquities smuggling and the black market for foreign currencies.

To draw a map for the prosecution of corruption, Egyptian researcher, S.H., sees it necessary to take judicial and administrative measures to combat corruption, without submitting to any political polarisation and allowing regulatory agencies to work independently, prosecuting the corrupt with fair trials, enhancing transparency and automation, and complete oversight of ministries, security and sovereign agencies.

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