It’s seven years ago today the Egyptian revolution, with all its hope and potential, its demand for justice and accountability, began. A key component of that revolution was the demand for an end to corruption and a reckoning for the grand corruption that had taken place under the former regime, not least the prosecution and recuperation of the assets allegedly stolen and hidden overseas by Mubarak, his family and his close associates.
But seven years on, the promise of the return of the stolen billions looks fainter than ever. The prosecutions have failed – Mubarak has been released from prison and never faced prosecution in relation to the money frozen abroad. Reconciliation deals have been made by the Egyptian authorities to recover money from some former officials and businessmen, but at the price of immunity from prosecution for any crimes committed. And Switzerland recently announced it is ending the political sanctions on Mubarak, his family and associates – sanctions that kept the suspected proceeds of grand corruption frozen in Swiss banks – opening the door for these funds to be reclaimed by the owners of the accounts if and when Swiss investigations end. The EU is due to renew its asset freeze by 22 March and there is a danger it too will remove its sanctions.
That this is happening now represents a crisis in confidence. Confidence from European countries that the Egyptian authorities will cooperate enough in order to reclaim those assets, confidence from the Egyptian side that the European countries really want to sanction the corrupt and implicate their financial systems. Both views are probably correct – European financial institutions profit from being seen as a safe haven for wealth, however acquired, while the urgency and desire for justice in Egypt is demonstratively less than in the years immediately following the revolution.
But giving up on this processes now would represent an even greater crisis in confidence. Confidence that we are closing the gaps that allow public figures to accumulate vast wealth at the public expense, confidence that we are building financial systems that are not allowed to profit from corruption, and confidence that we believe in accountable and just governance.
The challenges are great. But we need to keep going. As a first step, we need the EU’s asset freeze to stay in place. Beyond that, we need to keep pushing, from both sides, keep working together and keep making the point that, in 2018, we have gone past the point when grand corruption can be swept under the table. We need to demand accountability, and demand it now.