Egypt sentences first Mubarak-era official in push for justice

Former Interior Minister Habib El Adly was given 12 years in prison today and fined $2.5 million for corruption, signaling that Egypt's military rulers are serious about prosecuting former officials.

Egyptian Interior Ministry/AP/File
In this May 26, 2005 file photo, Interior Minister Habib El Adly, is shown standing under a portrait of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo. An Egyptian court sentenced the now-former Interior Minister to 12 years in prison on Thursday.

In the first trial of a former regime official since the revolution, an Egyptian court sentenced former Interior Minister Habib El Adly to 12 years in prison Thursday and fined him about $2.5 million on charges of profiteering and money laundering.

“The sentence, although it is not the severest, is still severe enough to send a powerful message to other ministers and particularly to senior police officers that no one is above the law in Egypt, no matter how powerful he might be at a certain point of time,” says Mustapha Kamel Al Sayyid, political science professor at the American University in Cairo. “So in this sense this is the beginning of the establishment of a state of law in Egypt and I think this augurs well for the political evolution of the Egyptian political system.”

The prosecution of an interior minister for financial corruption is an historic step for Egypt, Dr. Sayyid adds. Indeed, Mr. Adly's sentencing signals that Egypt's military rulers and government are serious about putting Mubarak-era officials on trial.

Former President Hosni Mubarak himself, along with his two sons, his wife, senior officials in his regime, and businessmen are being investigated and will likely face the courts in a string of high-profile trials throughout the rest of the year, satisfying the many Egyptians who demanded their former rulers be brought to justice.

A first step in tackling widespread corruption

During the uprising that brought down Mr. Mubarak, and after, Egyptians who took to the streets in protest displayed fierce anger at the alleged corruption among top officials. They exploited their positions to earn millions, many believe, while 40 percent of the population lives on $2 or less a day.

A report released Wednesday by Global Integrity, a Washington-based nonprofit that tracks governmental transparency and accountability, found that Egypt's anticorruption efforts steadily declined since the organization began tracking data in 2006. The organization, which looks at indicators like the media's ability to report on corruption, election integrity, and conflicts of interests safeguards, found that Egypt scored worse in 2010 than the year before in all but two of 23 indictors.

Sayyid says that more steps are necessary to end widespread corruption among government officials and businessmen, but that Adly’s conviction is an important first one. Egypt should maintain freedom of expression for media, and empower the judiciary and state-controlled agencies to uncover and prosecute corruption, he says.

Adly faces two more trials; could face death penalty

More trials for corruption are yet to come, but there are more serious charges as well. Adly himself still faces two more trials, including one later this month on charges of ordering security forces to open fire on protesters. Mubarak is also being investigated on similar charges, and both could face the death penalty if convicted, Egyptian officials have said.

At least 846 people died when police and security forces used live ammunition, rubber bullets, tear gas, and vehicles against protesters during the 18-day uprising.

Many despised Adly even before the uprising. As interior minister, he oversaw the police and intelligence forces, which were accused of widespread abuse and torture. He kept his post for 13 years, despite numerous accusations of abuse under his tenure and several terrorist attacks in Egypt. There was widespread popular pressure for him to face trial, and many Egyptians are anxiously awaiting the outcome of the next time he faces the court.

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