Thursday’s papers: LE37 billion lost in land deals, Mubarak ‘exhausted’ but not comatose

After almost a week of celebratory headlines–some more sincere than others–Thursday’s papers turn their attention to more pressing matters, mainly involving missing money, illegal land deals and high-profile corruption cases.

State-owned Al-Ahram leads with a headline claiming the “involvement of 28 business men” in unlawful land transactions; a list that includes prominent entrepreneurs such as Mahmoud al-Gammal, Magdy Rasikh, Ibrahim el-Banna and Saudi Prince Walid Bin Tallal, among others. According to Al-Ahram, the Ministry of Agriculture had allocated the properties for agricultural development, a deal that the paper claims was dishonored by the businessmen involved, who instead developed their lands for maximum personal profit–and at a loss of LE37 billion to the state. Al-Ahram singles out Bin Tallal for owning 100,000 feddans in Toshka, which he has failed to develop. The incriminating list was compiled by officials at the Ministry of Agriculture and presented to Minister Ayman Abou Hadid for further review.

Al-Ahram’s frontpage features a report in which various Egyptian banks strongly deny any accusations  transferring funds belonging to ministers of the former regime to foreign accounts, regardless of any investigations or allegations those ministers might be facing. The decision reportedly is in accordance with a decree issued by the Central Bank of Egypt.

State-owned and independent papers also report that former Minister of Agriculture Aziz Abaza and businessmen Mohamed Mohamed Aboul Enein and Amr Mansy have been banned from travel. The trio has also had their individual assets frozen, as well as those of their respective business, properties, and family members including their “underage children.” This is the latest in a series of similar announcements made by Attorney General Abdel Meguid Mahmoud targeting prominent players in the recently toppled regime. Abaza, Aboul Enein, and Mansy will all undergo an investigation, which independent daily Al-Dostour promises will “reveal numerous surprises.”

The frontpage of Al-Dostour arrives with a plea, warning against the “hijacking” of Egypt’s “White Revolution” and calling for an end to all protests in order to “give the ministries a chance” at re-establishing normalcy. Beyond the plea and aforementioned report, the independent daily concerns itself with a “deficiency in the national budget,” which, according to newly instated Minister of Finance Samir Radwan, adds up to LE60.4 billion. Discussing the country’s current financial state, Radwan asserted that, despite the losses resulting from the revolution, the economy was still “capable of handling the burden” of public compensation, which would go towards reconstruction and to families of victims of the uprising.

Also in Al-Dostour is a “confession” by Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar Ahmed al-Tayyeb, who claims that the religious institution’s silence was “one of the reasons behind the regime’s corruption.” Al-Tayyeb stated that Al-Azhar’s lack of interference regarding the regime’s dishonesty only emboldened the regime, and that, during the revolution, his only two concerns were for the “safety of the young protesters, and the security of the nation.”

Besides news reports similar to those covered in other papers, Al-Wafd’s frontpage features a piece by editor-in-chief Sayed Abdel Atti who, under the headline “the real battle has yet to start,” writes of the dangers of letting the former regime’s cronies go unpunished. Stating the obvious, Abdel Atti insists that the “point” of the revolution was not to bring down Mubarak, but to put an end to the rampant corruption that characterized his regime. “Where are Safwat el-Sherif, and Zakaria Azmy, and Ali el-Deen Hilal, and Moufid Shehab and Gamal Mubarak and Ahmed Ezz, and all those accused of grand treason?” Abdel Atti asks, before pointing out that surviving members of the toppled regime–if not punished–would no doubt soon be “regrouping, and plotting for revenge.” Abdel Atti ends his editorial by pushing for swift and harsh punishment, writing “without accountability, Egypt will never be reformed.”

Independent daily Al-Shorouk leads with a story on the constitutional review committee, which held its first meeting on Wednesday under the supervision of retired judge Tarek al-Bishry, who had been appointed by armed forces as head of the committee. The meeting, which lasted for four hours, saw attendees discuss possible amendments to articles 76, 77, 88, 93, and 189 of the constitution, as well as the potential annulment of article 179, which revolves around anti-terrorism measures and is seen to be largely responsible for Egypt’s perpetual state of emergency law. Following the meeting, al-Bishry announced his intention to hold similar meetings every day for the next ten days, in order to “achieve the largest number of accomplishments as quickly as possible.”

Al-Shorouk’s frontpage is also rife with speculation on former president Mubarak’s health, in a story titled “Is the time approaching for Mubarak to travel for ‘treatment’?” The paper’s report has “official sources” denying that the ousted president had recently slipped into a coma, but admitting that Mubarak had “passed out on Sunday morning, and then again on Monday.” The same official source states that medical attention was intensified on Tuesday, which probably resulted in the widely relayed rumors of his death. Reports of the former president refusing medication were also discredited by the source, who went on to state: “of course, he’s extremely exhausted–and who wouldn’t be after what he went through?”

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