- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The detention of an Egyptian industrial leader is raising new fears that those who prospered under the regime of ousted President Hosni Mubarak will face revolutionary justice despite the West’s hope that Egypt will emerge as a democracy.

The daughter of imprisoned industrialist Ahmed Ezz wants Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to raise the issue during her visit to Cairo this week, the first stop in Egypt by a senior U.S. official since the fall of the Mubarak government.

“I worry that the recent arrests of prominent businessmen and members of the former government are merely show trials used to appease the public’s anger,” Afaf Ezz, the daughter of Mr. Ezz, stated in a letter to Mrs. Clinton sent Monday.

The detention of Mr. Ezz could signal an uglier phase in the Egyptian revolution, where key figures in the former regime are facing public trials through emergency courts. His arrest has made headlines in the Egyptian press, which has portrayed him as one of the chief enemies of the recent revolution that ousted Mr. Mubarak and led to an interim military government.

Mrs. Clinton arrived in Cairo on Tuesday for meetings with her Egyptian counterpart, Nabil Al-Araby, Egypt’s new foreign minister, and members of civil-society groups.

Mrs. Clinton said she was “inspired” by the relatively nonviolent revolution that drove Mr. Mubarak from power and derailed apparent plans for his son, Gamal Mubarak, to succeed him.

State Department acting spokesman Mark Toner said, “The department received the letter [from Ms. Ezz] and is looking into it.”

“Secretary Clinton is in Egypt now, meeting with a broad array of individuals both in government and civil society, and among the issues she’ll address is the need for absolute transparency and rule of law as Egypt navigates its transition to democratic rule,” Mr. Toner said.

Shortly after Mr. Mubarak left Cairo for his palace in the resort town of Sharm el Sheik, a number of prominent figures associated with his old regime were arrested, including Mr. Ezz, a former chairman of the national assembly’s budget committee and the owner of Ezz Steel, the largest steel company in the Middle East.

He was accused of corruption related to acquiring his wealth through political connections and trying to monopolize Egypt’s steel industry.

Other figures arrested after the fall of Mr. Mubarak include former Interior Minister Habib el-Adly, who is accused of ordering the national police to fire on unarmed demonstrators. The military transitional authorities have also arrested the former housing minister, Ahmed Maghrabi, and former Tourism Minister Zuheir Garana.

“The denial of transparency and a democratic judicial process threatens the goals and aspirations of my fellow Egyptians who demonstrated so bravely for justice and democracy,” Ms. Ezz stated in the letter.

“This is a bellwether case for Egyptian democracy and the rule of law. We must ensure that rule of law and due process are in place in Egypt,” she said.

Since 1981, the Egyptian government has utilized an emergency law to imprison perceived enemies of the Mubarak regime and the state without due process.

Joe Stork, the deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa division, said his organization criticized Egypt’s judicial system for many years.

“I know who Ahmed Ezz is,” Mr. Stork said. “I know of his reputation, I have no views on his culpability.”

But Mr. Stork added, “Certainly he, like anyone else, has his right to a fair trial. The judicial proceedings he is subjected to should meet fair-trial standards; he should know the accusations against him; he should be able to confront those who are accusing him.”

Amr Bargisi, a senior partner with the Egyptian Union of Liberal Youth, an organization that seeks to promote political liberty and free markets in Egypt, said Mr. Ezz is “public enemy No. 1 in Egypt today.”

Mr. Bargisi said he doubts Mr. Ezz could receive a fair trial because the accusations against him were widely publicized by the media.

“Everyone in Egypt has been upset with the idea of the marriage of wealth and power,” Mr. Bargisi said. “I am afraid the divorce of wealth from power will probably not only lead to the unfair treatment of many businessmen and former politicians, but might also take Egypt in a direction that will be devastating for the economy and the prospects of democracy. Every businessman at the moment is a suspect of the revolutionary regime and the public. If this trend continues, we will see major capital flight from Egypt.”

Not all observers agree that the pending trial of Mr. Ezz is unwise. Hussein Ibish, a senior fellow at the American Taskforce on Palestine, said Egyptians needed to know that the era of corruption under Mr. Mubarak was finished.

“This trial is probably needed to convince Egyptians that the worst excesses of the kleptocracy under Mubarak has been stopped and will be addressed,” he said. “There has to be some kind of reckoning, even in a bloodless and orderly transition. I would say everything in the legal and political processes that exist in Egypt right now is unsatisfactory, nothing bares the hallmark of legitimacy. The question is to what extent do you put the legal and political processes on hold, or do you go forward with what is socially and politically required?”

In a March 11 letter from prison, published on the Bikyamas website, Mr. Ezz rejected the charges against him.

“I refute all of the allegations brought against me, and I know that a fair and proper legal process would prove my innocence,” he stated.

“In this unprecedented time for the country, it is important to remember what our youth are calling for: freedom, fairness and democracy. My hope is that this commitment to a bright future for Egypt is not undermined at its first hurdle through a desire to find scapegoats. I truly hope I can at least depend on a full representation of the facts, due legal process and a fair trial.”

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