Accountability has no place in Sisi's Egypt

Accountability has no place in Sisi's Egypt
Comment: The sacking of the head of the Central Auditing Authority is rooted in politics: a systematic crackdown on any form of accountability, argues Mohamed ElMeshad
6 min read
12 Apr, 2016
The Presidenct is actively sabotaging attempts to expose corruption in the government [Getty]

Oversight and accountability seem to irk the current Egyptian regime more than anything.

When running for president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi never proposed a programme, except saying that, in two years, we would all see a "new Egypt". The regime under him believed it has somehow earned free rein, and it went about justifying this outlook in quite an unorthodox manner.

After the ousting of President Mohamed Morsi, Sisi asked Egyptians to take the streets to offer him a "mandate" to fight "terrorism". It was a curious request in so far that fighting terrorism is already well within the job description of all security forces.

Perhaps his request wouldn't have been as odd if it was framed as a show of social solidarity against terrorism and what it stands for. But the request was very clear. The military man wanted to ensure that, like soldiers, he'd have a population ready to follow him wherever he was going in this new war on terror.

This became more evident than ever when his decisions were questioned, or his plans probed. Perhaps the earliest indication of this disposition was his despondent reaction when one of his own supporters innocently asked him when he planned to release a fill presidential manifesto.

He may as well have replied: "You are the ones who pressured me to run. Now you want me to provide you with a plan?"

The timing of the amendment was so conspicuous that it became known in many circles as 'The Hesham Geneina Law'

Therefore, the sacking of the head of the Central Auditing Authority (CAA), Hesham Geneina, by presidential decree, should not have come as a surprise. His supporters believe that his only real crime was that he was a little overzealous about tackling corruption, sending hundreds of cases to the public prosecutors to investigate, a duty many of his predecessors failed to perform.

It meant that he constantly held a mirror up to the government, exposing its imperfections and trying to rectofy them. Just as he was ready to release a report detailing hundreds of billions of Egyptian pounds lost due to corruption in January, a law that had previously prevented the president from sacking the heads of public supervisory institutions, such as the CAA, was amended to allow him just that.

The timing of the amendment was so conspicuous that it became known in many circles as "The Hesham Geneina Law". It was then only a matter of time.

A committee, set up by the president to look into Geneina's claims - that, in 2015, corruption cost the country 600 billion Egyptian pounds - accused Geneina of deliberate deception and exaggerating the extent of corruption.

According to them, if no one is talking about it, then it doesn't exist, and so a gag order was also placed on any investigations regarding corruption. Removing the most significant "honest broker" who audited major government institutions would actually help the regime move forward with its own plans.

But they viewed him as an impediment to what they truly believed to be the best course of action for Egypt. It is much more than an attack on opposition, it is an attack on there even existing the slightest notion of oversight or accountability.

Also, it is a clear indication that "fixing" the country lies nowhere in the priorities of this government.

To put Geneina's findings in context, in the 2016 government budget, public revenues are forecast at LE622 billion, along with a fiscal deficit of about LE200 billion.

If a fraction of the alleged cost of corruption went towards public funds, it would be a huge boost to government coffers.

The scale of Geneina's findings, and his initiative to prosecute the perpetrators could have been a vital step towards a process that could target structural corruption. In fact, Sisi had nothing to lose and everything to gain had he allowed the CAA to continue its work.

No one blames him for the present state of Egypt's public institutions and the levels of corruption they foster. A credible campaign against corruption by Geneina - who was, after all, a government employee, and also a judge - would have been a feather in the current regime's cap.

The poor showing of the Egyptian government vis-à-vis the murder of Giulio Regeni... could be due to a similar hesitancy by a regime whose primary goal is to survive

Instead, whether to suit his own design or out of a fear of upsetting members of other state apparatus who may object to any kind of earnest anti-corruption efforts, the presidency is actively sabotaging these attempts.

Many analysts similarly think that the poor showing of the Egyptian government vis-à-vis the murder of Giulio Regeni, and the following diplomatic strain, could be due to a similar hesitancy by a regime whose primary goal is to survive.

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However, this regime's survival will not occur amid a continuous decay in Egypt's governmental institutions - which has already started catching up to them economically, politically, and even from a security perspective, which is the apparent priority.

Since March of last year, the president and his government have hung the country's economic hopes on a combination of grand national projects and the ability to attract more foreign investment.

By now, according to official statements, there should be an additional $100 billion of investments, the Suez Canal Project should already be turning a profit, and living conditions should be improved.

While GDP growth will be increasing, it will not reach initial government projections of over five percent - the existing GDP growth projections have more to do with the election of a parliament, and increasing political stability relative to the years prior. Meanwhile, the government is contracting public spending to fill the gap. All while the money is still being spent on other infrastructural projects.

The government’s financial stability and sanity will be central to any development occurring in the coming period. The legal guarantees and financial incentives will not count for much if not accompanied with adequate enforcement and regulation, especially within government apparatuses. 

Mohamed ElMeshad is a journalist and a PhD candidate at SOAS, focusing on the political economy of the media. He has worked extensively in Egypt, Bahrain, West Africa, the UK and US. Recently, he contributed to the Committee to Protect Journalists' book, Attacks on the Press (2015).

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.