Sunday’s papers: Economic crisis, Mubarak regime corruption and army’s right to vote

Al-Ahram newspaper leads with the headline: “The Egyptian economy has lost LE70 billion since 25 January.” The paper cites a recent study published by the National Planning Institute, which suggests that specific economic sectors have been hard hit by the political turmoil including tourism, construction, and Suez Canal revenues. The study goes on to expect Egyptian remittances to drop to less than seven billion dollars this year. Al-Ahram quotes the director of the institute Fayda Abdel Salam as saying that the Egyptian economy is on the brink of a real crisis especially considering foreign reserves have fallen to US$28 billion compared to US$35 billion at the same time last year. Al-Ahram also cites a report by the Institute of International Finance, which warns of a social uprising in Egypt if economic conditions are not improved. The American report expects inflation to rise to 11.5 percent and the growth rate to fall to 2.5 percent.

Meanwhile, Al-Ahram says that the legal commission in charge of retrieving public funds will convene today to develop a plan on how to return to Egypt funds held abroad by former regime officials. The commission is set to meet with a Swiss delegation the day after tomorrow to discuss prospects of bringing back funds frozen by Swiss banks.

Also regarding the corruption of the ousted regime, Al-Wafd daily leads with the sensational headline: “Mubarak’s scandals keep coming up.” During the trial of former tourism minister Zoheir Garana, the court listened to an audio recording of former president Hosni Mubarak in which the latter ordered Garana to sell a piece of land, believed to be rich in oil mines, at the low price of US$1 per square meter, Al-Wafd says. The misappropriation of public land stands out as one of the main accusations leveled at Mubarak’s men.

By the same token, prominent columnist Farouk Gouida highlights a further “three crimes” of the old regime in the privately-owned Al-Shorouk daily. “The first crime is the decision to float the Egyptian pound in early 2003 under Atef Ebeid’s cabinet. This was one of the worst economic decisions to harm the Egyptian economy, especially as it was not made at the right time." Gouida reiterates an allegation that former officials informed certain businessmen about the decision in advance so they could buy dollars to sell after the pound was floated and make huge gains. “As for the second issue that we should investigate, it is the agreements that Egyptian banks reached with businessmen who had a hard time paying their loans back,” says Gouida. He goes on to explain that public banks' unfair agreements with these people culminated in losses worth billions of Egyptian pounds. Gouida dismisses privatization as the third crime of Mubarak’s regime. “Nobody knows the amount of money that the state collected from selling out public sector projects or where it landed,” says Gouida, adding that many of these projects were underpriced. Businessmen were granted loans from public banks to buy such projects and allowed to pay them back in long-term installments.

Away from corruption, most dailies highlight that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces is set to release the new legislation on the exercise of political rights this week. Last week, a government spokesperson created a ripple of confusion by announcing that the cabinet had endorsed a bill that gave policemen and military personnel the right to vote. The military declared later on that such amendment was not conceivable. In his column, Yasser Rizk, editor of Al-Akhbar, dismissed any attempt to allow policemen and army officers to vote as a plot to drag the military into “the quagmire of politics.” Rizk warned that such an amendment, if approved, would lead to the politicization of the military and may threaten its unity and undermine its role as the guardian of the revolution.

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