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Egyptians Set Fire To Mubarak Son Confidante's Building Thrice In Cairo

Cairo, Feb 7 : As Egyptians turned their anger on symbols of the state late last month, torching police stations along with the headquarters of President  Hosni Mubarak's ruling party, they reserved a special hatred
PTI February 07, 2011 18:24 IST
PTI
Cairo, Feb 7 : As Egyptians turned their anger on symbols of the state late last month, torching police stations along with the headquarters of President  Hosni Mubarak's ruling party, they reserved a special hatred for a garish building with black tinted windows in an upscale neighborhood, setting fire to it three times, says a New York Times report.

It belongs to a steel tycoon and ruling party insider named Ahmed Ezz, a close friend and confidante of  Mubarak's son Gamal.

For many years, Ahmed  Ezz has represented the intersection of money, politics and power, controlling two-thirds of the steel market, leading the budget committee as a member of Parliament and serving as an officer and loyal lieutenant in the governing party. Public resentment at the wealth acquired by the politically powerful helped propel the uprising already reshaping the contours of power along the Nile.

Ezz's world has come undone. He is treated as a liability by an old guard intent on saving itself from fed-up and furious protesters. He is under investigation on suspicion of corruption. His assets have been frozen and his right to travel taken away. He has denied accusations of corruption in the past, and his location was not known Sunday. Now his name is part of the derisive chants in Tahrir Square, a symbol of all that was wrong with  Mubarak's government.


“Ahmed Ezz sucks the blood of the people,” said Osama Mohamed Afifi, a student who joined the protesters in the square on Sunday. “He is the only man who can sell steel in all of Egypt, and he sells it for much more than if we could buy steel from someone else like China.”

Hosni Mubarak's Egypt has long functioned as a state where wealth bought political power and political power bought great wealth.

While hard facts are difficult to come by, Egyptians watching the rise of a moneyed class widely believe that self-dealing, crony capitalism and corruption are endemic, represented in the public eye by a group of rich businessmen aligned with Gamal Mubarak, the president's son, as well as key government ministers and governing party members.

“The people around Gamal became the wealthiest group in the country,” said Hala Mustafa, a political scientist who quit the ruling party years ago, saying it was not committed to political reform. “They monopolized everything.”

While Egypt's gross domestic product grew, so did the percentage of the population that was poor. Rumors of kickbacks and corruption swirled. There have been multibillion-dollar estimates of the wealth of the president or his family, but experts say those are unsubstantiated guesses.

A 2006 cable obtained by Wikileaks described a 274-page report by an opposition political group detailing accusations of corruption by the president's wife, Suzanne, as well as Gamal Mubarak and his brother, Alaa, a businessman. The cable, from the American ambassador in Cairo, Francis J. Ricciardone, noted that the accusations were unproven but called the report evidence of growing public anger.

“Egyptians are becoming increasingly vocal about sensitive issues despite the possible government backlash,” he noted.

The Mubaraks owned a five-story townhouse on 28 Wilton Place in the upscale Knightsbridge district of London, which has served as a base for Mrs. Mubarak and a home for Gamal Mubarak when he was working in London as an investment banker. A local property agent said townhouses in the area had sold in recent years for $10 million to $16 million.

Last week, a woman answering the front door of No. 28 said the Mubaraks had sold the townhouse, but property agents said there was no record of a sale, and neighbors said they had seen Gamal Mubarak and his family entering the house several times recently.

Ezz, in his tight Italian suits, became the best known and most reviled member of the group around Gamal Mubarak.

His father was a steel trader and his mother owned land in Gaza. Ezz grew up wealthy but not rich, according to Ali Moussa, a leading businessman and a member of the ruling party who has known Ezz since he was a child. The family steel business grew in the early 1990s, during a period of economic changes when the Egyptian government, at the behest of the IMF, carried out a radical restructuring of the country's economy.

Ahmed El Naggar, director of the economic studies unit at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, said government officials sold state-owned land to politically connected families for low prices. They also allowed foreign conglomerates to buy state-owned companies for small amounts. In exchange, he said, they received kickbacks.

At the same time, the government required foreign investors to form joint ventures with Egyptian firms. Families with close ties to the governing party formed the Egyptian half of the lucrative joint ventures.

“It's quite clear that entire domains in the economy were dominated by a few people,” said Eberhard Kienle, chairman of the Center for Near and Middle Eastern Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. “If you talk to the smaller business dealer, they feel they can't rise to the top. Markets are being allocated politically.”

Exacerbating tensions, Egypt's oligarchs flaunted their wealth. They built grandiose homes in the desert outside Cairo and along the country's coasts. They drove brand-new Mercedes-Benzes down derelict Cairo streets with police escorts.

At the same time, the government required foreign investors to form joint ventures with Egyptian firms. Families with close ties to the governing party formed the Egyptian half of the lucrative joint ventures.
Exacerbating tensions, Egypt's oligarchs flaunted their wealth. They built grandiose homes in the desert outside Cairo and along the country's coasts. They drove brand-new Mercedes-Benzes down derelict Cairo streets with police escorts.

As the economy was privatized, Ezz's family bought a public-sector steel company. At the same time, Ezz took on a more active role in public life, becoming vice chairman of a national trade federation, the head of one of the country's industrial cities and a member of Parliament.

At about the same time, Gamal Mubarak was becoming active in his father's party, and looking to inject it with fresh blood, Moussa said. By 2002, when Gamal Mubarak took control of the party's policy-making committee, Ezz was a rising star in the party, and his steel company was making him incredibly rich.

By 2003, Ezz Steel controlled two-thirds of the Egyptian market, Professor Selim said. Over the next few years, as Ezz took on important responsibilities in the governing party, allegations mounted that he was using his position to enrich himself and defend his near-monopoly on the steel business. Professor Selim said complaints brought against  Ezz with the Egyptian Competition Authority were dismissed, in large part because of the high threshold for such complaints under the law.