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Egypt Arrests ex-Officials in Fight Against Corruption - 2002-09-02

Egypt has been waging an internal battle against official corruption. There have been numerous arrests and trials. But analysts and government officials say the only way to truly end corruption in Egypt is through greater democratic reforms.

An escalating anti-government corruption campaign in Egypt has led to almost daily headlines in Egyptian newspaper reporting more arrests.

Already this year, Egypt's former minister of finance was found guilty of taking millions of dollars in bribes to amass a personal fortune. He was sentenced to eight years at hard labor.

The chairman of a government-run metal factory and 19 other company officials are in jail on charges of corruption, embezzlement, profiteering and misappropriating $331 million of public money.

And in a corruption trial currently underway in Cairo, two members of parliament are charged with fraud after seizing government-owned land worth about $36 million.

But despite the crackdown, critics inside and outside the government complain corruption is allowed to flourish because the government monitors itself.

At Cairo's al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, economics analyst Ahmed Seyed al-Naggar says the public has no way of knowing or monitoring what goes on with its money.

"The public is not represented because of the lack of complete democracy," said Mr. al-Naggar. He says that means "there are more chances for more corruption because the public's money is in the hands of bureaucrats who could become corrupt because of the money."

"Corruption is directly linked to the absence of legal representation to monitor for the public," he said. He says there must be a separate, non-government, entity in charge of monitoring if monitoring is to be effective.

The executive director of Egypt's Center for Economic Studies, Ahmed Galal, says the solution to government corruption is to limit government regulation of the economy.

"Every time you create room for corruption, for instance when governments decide to restrict imports, a bureaucrat is going to give an importer a license to import, immediately there is room for corruption. Every time a government decides that to get a license to invest in one location and not another, there is room for corruption. So every time there is an excessive intervention on the part of the government in any economic activity there is room for corruption."

In a 2001 international corruption index compiled by business people, academics and risk analysts, Egypt scored a 3.6 on a scale of 10. Zero was the highly corrupt end of the scale.

Bribes are commonplace throughout Egyptian society. People often comment that "with money, anything is possible in Egypt."

Salah Qabadai is a member of the opposition party in the Egyptian parliament. He says he fears the latest government crackdown is nothing more than "cosmetic surgery for the ruling National Democratic Party." But he says "time will offer the truth."

"The government now is claiming that they are following up on all types of corruption and they will catch all the people who are trying to do any sort of corruption, and these claims need time to be judged."

In one of the latest cases to be publicized, the government spent 18 months investigating two government employees, including the use of phone taps, before arresting them on charges of corruption.

One government official, who asked that his identity not be disclosed, said "given the fact Egypt is not likely to further democratize anytime soon, maybe fear of being caught is the only tool available to keep corruption under control."