President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi passed a decree on July 9, giving him the right to remove the heads of oversight and independent bodies from their previously protected positions if they pose a proven threat to national security or fail to carry out their duties.
In response, Egypt’s chief auditor Hesham Geneina claims the decree was orchestrated by newly appointed Justice Minister Ahmed al-Zend after a corruption case filed by Geneina implicated the minister.
Geneina was appointed head of Egypt’s Central Auditing Authority in 2012 by ousted Islamist President Mohamed Morsi.
His role in the Central Auditing Authority, established in 1942, is to monitor the spending of public money by state agencies and public figures. Whereas in the past, the agency would only approach concerned state institutions to review its findings, Geneina took it a step further and sent hundreds of cases to the country’s state prosecutor, demanding official investigations into graft cases.
He once told the Associated Press that less than seven percent of the cases he filed were investigated.
One of the most recent cases, he explains, concerns the sale of state-owned land. “The country is being divided up and sold off,” he claims, adding that over the past year, networks of businessmen, ministers, security agencies, influential figures and media personnel have collaborated in corrupt deals related to the allocation of state land.
The marriage between politics, money, and media, Geneina says, has created networks infested with corruption, which threaten a repeat of the 2011 uprising that ousted the long-time rule of President Hosni Mubarak.
Rivalry with the justice minister
Geneina told Mada Masr in an interview at his Cairo office on Thursday that Zend is behind this recent decree, which he says was quickly drafted based on “misleading information.”
In reference to allegations of financial corruption against Zend, when he was head of the Judges Club — before he became minister — Geneina explains, “There is no personal conflict between us.”
“There are files that are linked to him personally and he knew about them. He knew I had the files,” he claims.
The rivalry with Zend has history. After his appointment as head of the auditing authority, Geneina requested that Zend provide access to the accounts of the Judges Club, in order to audit its spending. An exchange of lawsuits between the two ended in the courts throwing out the various cases.
While carefully avoiding criticism of the president, Geneina says the mere appointment of Zend as justice minister is “shocking.”
“The most dangerous issue here is that the security apparatus found a foothold in the judiciary,” he claims. “This is very worrying.”
“There is fear in this country over the selection of certain figures for key positions,” he explains. It makes things worse when they have the power to propose laws that are pushed through via the president, he says.
“You chose someone with so many question marks looming over him … I can only share public reservations over such choices … there is no smoke without fire.”
The decree passed by Sisi is arguably not enough on its own to oust Geneina, as the agency’s bylaws protect him from executive encroachment. However, he says it has been used to “hold a sword to the necks of agencies tasked with fighting corruption, in order to intimidate and terrorize them.”
“Instead of fighting corruption with the sword of justice, it is doing the opposite,” he asserts.
Accusations of Brotherhood ties
The head of the Central Auditing Authority typically holds the post for four years, and the position is renewable for a second term.
“I will resign from my post if I am incapable of assuming my duties, or if I am proven untrustworthy by the political leadership,” he promises.
Since Morsi’s ouster in June 2013, backed by the military, Geneina has experienced a fierce media campaign against him, mostly accusing him of being an Islamist sympathizer and an advocate of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.
“If they prove I am Muslim Brotherhood, I will stay home,” Geneina says, adding that the government should put an end to speculation and open transparent investigations into such allegations.
“Is the state, with all its security apparatuses and agencies, unable to determine whether Hesham Geneina is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood?” he asks, adding that the allegations against him by certain media outlets, which he claims are connected to the security apparatus, have been used as a “scarecrow.”
Geneina recently filed a lawsuit against Ahmed Moussa, the television presenter known for his close ties to security networks, accusing him of defamation. “He barks for 24 hours on a channel owned by a businessman on whom I have a file of wrongdoings,” he claims.
Geneina says such propaganda is part of the work of an extensive clique of businessmen and officials, who form a “network of corruption.”
In its May report, Transparency International said Egypt “performed poorly” on the Corruption Perceptions Index in 2014, and was ranked 94 out of 175 countries, with a score of 37 on a scale of 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (highly clean).
Using law to repress dissent
The presidential decree is one of several controversial steps taken by Sisi under the banner of the war on terrorism.
The government is pushing through an anti-terrorism bill to ensure speedy trials on the heels of issuing mass trials and death sentences to thousands of Morsi supporters and Muslim Brotherhood members. This has sparked international outcry and severely threatened the credibility and reputation of the Egyptian judiciary.
Other determinations, such as the exempting of military facilitates from taxation and a decree giving Armed Forces and police personnel the right to establish private security firms, have given more power to security apparatuses, Geneina argues. He says such privileges for certain groups over others should be monitored by the Supreme Constitutional Court, which should have final say over their constitutionality.
Having been a police officer, a prosecutor and a judge for three decades, Geneina warns: “The most dangerous matter here is the use of the law as a weapon to liquidate the opposition.”
“The judiciary has been forced into the political foray,” he claims, adding, “What is happening now is that the exception is becoming the norm.”
Referring to the police, Geneina says, “They are like an injured beast that is taking revenge on those they perceive to be responsible for its injury. They are coming back with much savagery.”
Attempts to reach Justice Minister Ahmed al-Zend for comment were unsuccessful.