With Hosni Mubarak gone, let’s do a little Egyptian math on the Mubarak years.
According to experts, the fortune amassed by Egypt’s former president and his two sons (both billionaires) could reach $70 billion. That includes funds in secret offshore bank accounts and investments in residences and real-estate properties reaching from Rodeo Drive in Beverley Hills to Wilton Place in central London and Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheik tourist resort. Since Mubarak has been president for 30 years, he’s put that little fortune together at a record clip -- something like $2 billion or more a year. He and his family are now worth approximately four times the gross domestic product (GDP) of Paraguay, five times the GDP of embattled Afghanistan, and more than ten times the GDP of Laos. He may be the richest man and they the richest family on Earth. All this happened, by the way, in the years when millions of Egyptians -- at least one in every 10 -- lost their farms, while more than 40% of Egyptians live on less than $2 a day.
And let’s just mention a few others in the cast of characters who let the good times roll and made a few bucks off the reign of the Mubarak family: steel magnate and ruling party insider Ahmed Ezz, for instance, managed to eke out a $3 billion fortune, while former Interior Minister Habib Ibrahim El-Adly scraped by with a near-rock-bottom $1.2 billion. And they are just two of at least five much-loathed Mubarak cronies who reportedly crossed the billion-dollar mark in these years.
As for a trio of Washington lobbyists -- former Republican representative Bob Livingston, former Democratic representative Toby Moffett, and mover-and-shaker Tony Podesta -- who bravely hired themselves out to the Mubarak regime, they made chump change: reportedly a mere $1 million a year for their efforts. Who knows what Frank Wisner, the former ambassador sent to Cairo by the Obama administration to give Mubarak the boot, made working for Patton, Boggs, a company which proudly boasts of the litigation work it’s done for Mubarak and company? Conflict of interest anyone?
Meanwhile, don’t forget the Egyptian military. It didn’t do so badly in the Mubarak years either. After all, according to one expert, it owns "virtually every industry in the country," and it still managed to take in a handy $35 billion in “aid” from Washington since 1978.
As for ordinary Egyptians who protested the devolving state of their country? Estimates of the number of political prisoners in Egypt’s grim jails have varied over the years from 6,000 to 17,000. Their well-being was overseen by former head of intelligence Omar Suleiman. Since Egypt was a “torture destination of choice” for the Bush administration’s Global War on Terror, Suleiman happily oversaw that program, too, as Mubarak’s torturer-in-chief. Appointed vice president by his pal, Suleiman was the “democrat” the Obama administration seemed ready to back until recently to manage the “transition to democracy.”
All in all, should we wonder that such a torturing kleptocracy on the Nile is now being shaken to its foundations and that another spirit, a spirit of democracy, freedom, and justice, is rising in the region? Sometimes such a spirit can be caught in the story of a single ordinary, yet remarkable, life. Jen Marlowe has done so in her essay “From an Israeli Prison to Tahrir Square” and her just-published book The Hour of Sunlight: One Palestinian’s Journey from Prisoner to Peacemaker. She tells a remarkable story about how even prison can prepare the way for another world and her is particularly appropriate for this stereotype-breaking Middle Eastern moment.
Copyright 2011 Tom Engelhardt