Beyond Egypt: other people worth sanctioning in MENA

Masses of people flooded the streets to protest the endemic corruption of their governments in Cairo, Tunis and many other Arab cities. Following these uprisings six years ago, sanctions were imposed on public officials for misappropriating public funds. Here’s a look at recent European Union (EU) actions, such as asset freezes and visa restrictions.


The assets of Hosni Mubarak and his family members were frozen by the EU after the former Egyptian president resigned in 2011. The annually-renewed EU decision was prompted by the January 25th revolution and puts a lock on the funds and economic resources of Mubarak, his wife Suzanne, his sons Gamal and Alaa, and other former regime figures.


During the protests in Tunisia in 2011, the Council of the EU issued a regulation to its member states which pre-emptively froze the assets held by the deposed dictator and his inner-circle across the European Union. In regards of Tunisia, the regulation froze the assets of former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, his wife and 46 other persons. The latest iteration of the asset freeze is set to expire in January, 2018, pending another renewal.


Switzerland, the EU and the United States announced asset freezes of accounts held by President Bashar Al-Assad’s family and associates in 2011 and 2012: £100 million in the United Kingdom, $78 million in the United States, and 70 million Swiss Francs. However, these sanctions likely account for only a small proportion of Assad’s assets abroad, most of which are presumed to be concealed in jurisdictions less likely to identify and freeze accounts, such as Russia, Hong Kong, or other states in the Middle East/North Africa region.


Former President Muammar Gaddafi enriched himself  between $100 million and $200 million in public assets for over 40 years through a network of cryptic corporate investments, secret front companies and hidden bank accounts. While most of these assets belonging to the Libyan people have turned up in Italy, Germany and the U.S., the majority of his wealth remains unaccounted for. Dozens of ongoing international lawsuits and investigations aim to repatriate the stolen funds.


In the midst of a brutal two-year civil war that shows no signs of ending, little attention has been paid to the estimated $32-60 billion looted by former President Ali Abdallah Saleh during his three decades in power. According to the UN Security Council Panel of Experts, at least 20 countries hold assets belonging to Saleh. However, few countries seem to have cooperated with the panel to report on freezing and confiscating those assets.

Illegally obtained  money remains in overseas banks instead of being used to build much-needed critical infrastructure and develop economic growth in the Middle East. Ill-gotten assets worth billions of dollars have the potential to help the people devastated by violence and oppression at the hands of the very ‘leaders’ who looted public coffers. These funds have the can help to not only build key support systems and economic stimulus, but also to cultivate trust, good governance and equitable distribution of resources.