Corruption investigations begin in post-Mubarak Egypt

>Emad Mekay, The Electronic Intifada, 31 March 2011

CAIRO, Egypt (IPS) – Egyptian authorities have opened dozens of criminal investigations into hundreds of millions of dollars worth of public land contracts that were awarded illegally to real estate developers associated with former president Hosni Mubarak without proper procedures at below market rates.

The current probes are the first steps, and perhaps the most obvious, that emerge in post-Mubarak Egypt towards the country’s new economic future — one many here say could be less susceptible to cronyism and shady deals by government officials.

“The [Mubarak] authoritarian regime supported a class of land speculators and marketed them as if they were real developers and entrepreneurs with real projects,” said Mamdouh Hamza, civil engineering professor at Suez Canal University and a frequent public speaker on land corruption issues.

“In fact the closest thing they had to business was their relations and contacts with the regime which they used to obtain land cheaply, wait on it a bit, inflate their prices and then sell at huge profits without giving the public a penny in return.”

The investigations, backed by the country’s current rulers in the military, who came to office after Mubarak was ousted on 25 January, are designed to placate angry Egyptians who feel they have been ripped off by the previous regime.

The official Central Auditing Organization, a government watchdog that was marginalized under Mubarak but continued to amass reports on official corruption, estimates that the country could recoup some 75 billion Egyptian pounds (US $12.7 billion) from land sold as cheap farmland but later vended as residential mansions and luxury units, especially around the 220-kilometer Desert Road between Cairo and the Mediterranean city of Alexandria.

At least a dozen of close associates of the ex-president, who ruled Egypt for 30 years, and his son, Gamal, are now standing trial or investigations related to corrupt land contracts.

Almost all of the officials were members of Mubarak’s once-ruling National Democratic Party. Several have been ordered not to leave the country while others had their financial assets frozen by the general prosecutors pending investigation over how they cheaply obtained public land with little or no government oversight.

Although such cases are being uncovered almost on daily basis, many who had warned of wrongful practices in state land sales in the past, say this is only the tip of the iceberg.

“The end of state land corruption has just started,” said former Dean of the Faculty of Urban Planning at Cairo University Sameh El-Alaily, who had written extensively about state land abuse.

Earlier this month an Egyptian legal panel recommended that a contract to sell 230 acres of public land north east of Cairo to the country’s second largest listed company, Palm Hills Developments, be annulled.

The panel found the deal was given “by direct order” rather than through competitive bidding at drastically below market rates. As a result, the country lost millions of dollars in real value of the land.

The former housing minister Ahmed al-Maghrabi, now in prison, stands accused of awarding Palm Hills Developments, in which he is a shareholder, hundreds of acres of land at such rates “using only his signature.”

The Egyptian general prosecutor Abdel Megeed Mahmoud this week ordered freezing all assets of al-Maghrabi and his partner, Palm Hills Developments Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Yasseen Mansour, whose family’s business empire includes dealerships for General Motors, Opel, Philip Morris, McDonalds, Red Bull, and Mantrac.

Palm Hills says on its website it is a business partner with The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company and Jumeirah Group, the Dubai-based luxury hospitality firm and member of Dubai Holding.

Palm Hills also has an agreement with India’s Taj Hotels, Resorts and Palaces to manage three Palm Hills hotels, one each on the North Coast in Ain Sokhna and in Aswan.

Al-Maghrabi faces several other charges including selling land at 300 Egyptian pounds (US $50) per meter when the real price was 5,000 (US $850) to a Saudi real estate mogul in Cairo.

The same panel also recommended canceling another deal with Saudi billionaire Prince Waleed bin Talal to sell 100,000 acres in the southern part of the country at a rate of 50 Egyptian pounds (US $8.40) per acre when the government was selling similar land to Egyptian university graduates for 22,000 Egyptian pounds (US $3,700), the panel said.

Mubarak’s regime said the plan to sell so cheaply was for Prince Bin Talal’s company, Kingdom Agricultural Development Company, to reclaim and cultivate the desert land to produce food for Egypt.

The legal panel said “the government has so far offered no evidence that the land has been cultivated despite the fact that the contract was signed 13 years ago.”

The country’s largest listed developer Talaat Moustafa Group (TMG) is under similar scrutiny as it faces renewed accusations that it has been awarded an 8,000 acres in its three billion dollar flagship project, Madinaty (my city), at token prices without proper auction procedure.

A previous court ruling, before Mubarak’s abdication, found that the now infamous Madinaty contract was fraudulent. Yet the Mubarak regime stomped all over the courts and re-issued the land late last year at the same price to the same company.

Further corruption cases involving public land are being disclosed at a dizzying pace, a development that has clearly kept corrupt officials who are still at large on their toes.

“But those who stole public land must be dying in their skin right now,” Hamza said. “Prison is waiting for them. They deserve it.”

All rights reserved, IPS – Inter Press Service (2011). Total or partial publication, retransmission or sale forbidden.
River to Sea Uprooted Palestinian

Joshua Landis: Syrians want deep political and economic reform but fear ethnic civil war


River to Sea Uprooted Palestinian

>Anthony Lawson: Holocaust, Hate Speech & Were the Germans so Stupid? (Must Watch)


Thursday, March 24, 2011 at 12:51PM Gilad Atzmon This documentary raises the most crucial questions to do with history and truth. Being subject to Zionist tyranny, we have become detached from our past. History is there to introduce hope for a better future. This should be applied to the Holocaust or any other historical chapter


Angry Birds Topple Middle East Leaders


Eslam al-Rihani
A cartoon video which recounts the unrest in the Middle East using the characters in the popular Angry Birds game and the children’s story Three Little Pigs is racking up the views on YouTube.

The video, which has been posted on the YouTube channel of a Russian named Egor Zhgun, had been viewed more than 400,000 times on the video-sharing site.

In the video, the egg-stealing green pigs in the original Angry Birds game from Finland’s Rovio portray Tunisia’s deposed president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Egypt’s ousted leader Hosni Mubarak and Libyan strongman Moamer Gaddafi.

The Angry Birds first take out Ben Ali in his house of straw before moving on to topple Mubarak in a house made to resemble an Egyptian pyramid.

Gaddafi proves a harder nut to crack in his house of stones and survives several barrages of birds before he is finally crushed by a “mighty eagle” in the colors of the United States.

The video can be seen at on YouTube.

River to Sea Uprooted Palestinian

Occupying the Bases: April 9th and Iraq’s ‘Day of Salvation’


Image from an Iraqi facebook
page with over 31,000
“likes” calling for action on
April 9th. It reads:
“The Great Iraqi Revolution – 4/9 –
The Day of National Salvation”

On March 22nd, 5 Iraqi grassroots organizations announced an initiative that will target “the occupier and its agents”, that’s to say: US military bases and Iraq’s Maliki-led government. Riding the recent wave of sizable Iraqi demonstrations against, among other things: government corruption, lack of social services, Iraq’s prison industrial complex and a broken sectarian political system, the sit-ins planned for on April 9th are the first to call out the US occupation as a central cause, and sustainer of the shattered social reality that millions of Iraqis face every day. A new zeal and organizational drive inspired by the recent Arab uprisings has allowed the grievances laid out during the past month of weekly protests to coalesce. Two communiques co-signed by “The Popular Movement to Save Iraq”, “The Popular Front to Save Kirkuk”, “The Student and Youth Organization of a Free Iraq”, “The Movement in Steadfast Basra to Liberate the South” and “The Iraqi Association of the Tribes of Southern and Central Iraq”outline their demands and the means by which they hope to achieve them.
Those demands include:
–          The unconditional departure of the occupying forces
–          The revocation of the security agreement which violates the sovereignty and independence of Iraq
–           The revocation of the sectarian and ethnic quota system in the political process
–           The building of a civil Iraqi state through transparent elections, without the interference of the occupation forces or any foreign, regional force, especially Iran
–          The release of the innocent prisoners from occupation and government prisons
–          The disclosure of the location of secret prisons that are scattered all over Iraq’s provinces
–          Carrying out the demands of our people which were outlined during the “Uprising of Rage” on February 25th
–          The formation of an independent judicial committee to investigate the actions of the security forces against peaceful demonstrators [involved in protests over this last month]

The communique continues by announcing  “the launch of a long-term sit-in in all Iraqi provinces to mark the eighth anniversary of the brutal American occupation of our precious Iraq on Saturday, 4/9/2011 [. . .] This sit-in will not last hours or days, but will continue night and day until the protesters demands are met [ . . . ] For our sit-ins we will set up tents in front of US military bases, which are located in every Iraqi province. We ask all patriotic individuals and forces that oppose the occupation to participate in this demonstration.” (Full text of the communiques 16 and 17, including organizer’s contact information and the sites of the planned sit-ins, can be accessed in English here and here, and their original Arabic here and here.)

Location of major US miltary bases in Iraq
(last updated 2008)
The U.S. maintains 14 massive military installations in Iraq, along with dozens of smaller ones. With the Bush administration having pushed for 58 permanent bases during the drafting of the “status of forces” agreement, their fate under Obama and the planned post-2011 “withdrawal” remains unclear.
Among those leading this call is Uday al-Zaidi, the brother of journalist Muntazer al-Zaidi, who gained world-wide acclaim for his symbolic shoe-throwing at President Bush in December of 2008, and later his eloquent statement about why he did what he did. (As vocal organizers of the past month of protests, both Muntazer and Uday al-Zaidi have been harassed, assaulted and detained by the Iraqi authorities.)
Large media outlet coverage of this mobilization call has been scant, but has included brief stories on Al-Jazeera Arabic, as well as local Iraqi media.
The Iraqi blogosphere though, has been abuzz with talk of this plan, as well as more broadly how to marshal the audacity in the air and mobilize for a new Iraq.
Posted by iraqleft

The Rise of Israel’s Military Rabbis


Sunday, March 27, 2011 at 11:17PM Gilad Atzmon

Simple truth


Simple truth

Give me some pebbles to throw

Pebbles are the pathway to life
The echo of its music stays
Long after the shadow of the tyrant
Fades away

Tell me;
Did you spend your life
Searching for happiness
Running after crumbs of food
Accumulating tons of rotting clothes
Desiring heaps of rusty cars
Building a house of rubble
Chasing a mirage?

Calm down
Sit for a moment

And listen to your heart-beat
Whispering :
Your tomorrow never comes
Your yesterday has long gone
Your life is nothing but this moment
You are no-where; but now-here

Don’t travel far
The dream of happiness you’re after
Is very near; inside

So, give me some pebbles to throw
Pebbles are the pathway to life

The echo of its music stays
Long after the shadow of the tyrant
Fades away

Posted by nahida the Exiled Palestinian at 7:30:00 AM
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