Not Business as Usual in Egypt

Talaat Moustafa Group Building (Photo property of David Jandura)

For some reason I don’t think that firing the Egyptian cabinet is going to cut it at this point.   It’s true that the interior minister was truly hated, but we don’t know what is really going to happen to him.  Similarly, given his position within the military, sacking Defense Minister Mohamed Tantawi will probably not erase his influence over the Egyptian armed forces.   I was personally against Minster of Transport Alaa El-Deen Mohamed Fahmy, but not because of his policies – I know nothing about him – but because he replaced Mohamed Mansour, who is a fellow North Carolina State University alum.  After John Edwards’ fall from grace NC State needs all the good alum we can get.

This isn’t to say that the minsters in Egypt’s government were inconsequential; the NDP structure was bigger than a few people.  They were technocrats sure, but technocrats with policies that affected people.  It has been under the current Nazif government that Egypt has accelerated its privatization agenda, which while responsible for impressive growth over the past decade, has also left a lot of Egyptians behind.   I’m all to familiar with the young business community in Egypt.  While working there I had to stay afloat of all the recent news, which meant reading the American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt’s unbearable magazine.   There were others like it, such as Business Today, which managed to paint not only a rosy picture of the Egyptian economy, but seem to believe with such conviction in the inherent flawlessness of the current regime’s pro-growth agenda.   I won’t deny that there was growth, I also won’t deny that it was sometimes impressive, but I can understand why most Egyptians would not believe such policies could ever benefit them.

One of the hot issues at the time I was there was the coverage of Ahmed Ezz, a steel and ceramics tycoon, who in addition to having the benefit of being one of Gamal Mubarak’s friends, was also chairman of the Planning and Budget Committee in the Peoples’ Assembly.  Ezz was generating a fair amount of heat.  During his time in government, the maxim market share allowed for the steel industry was raised from 35 to 65 percent.  Just enough to allow Ezz Steel to maintain its 60 dominance in the market.

Then there was the murder trial of Hisham Talaat Moustafa, a prominent Shoura Council member.  He was also the head of the real estate giant Talaat Moustafa Group, one of many real estate firms that had littered the Cairo skyline with billboards of the luxurious gated community paradises they had built on the outskirts of the city.  Moustafa was on trial for the murder of his girlfriend, Lebanese pop star Suzanne Tamin.  When it was revealed during the trail about how his firm was able to purchase government land for what was essentially a loss for the government, people could only shrug.  Moustafa’s son, after all, was a member of the Peoples’ Assembly’s Housing Committee. They were disappointed, but not surprised.  That was the case for everything in Egypt. Whatever the outrage, a feeling of ennui  and hopelessness overcame.

That’s all seemed to change now.  It’s was much more than this top-level corruption of course; decades of authoritarian rule existed before Moustafa and Ezz.  But I do hear, when listening to observations about the “moderate” Mubarak regime in the US, how not only did they keep the radicals in line, they engineered responsible economic policies as well.  They weren’t responsible.  With anything.

Posted on January 29, 2011, in Democracy, Elections, Middle East and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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