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Is Egypt’s government doing enough to curb corruption?

The agriculture minister became the first high-profile official to be arrested for corruption since Sisi’s election

Rajia Aboulkheir

Published: Updated:

Upon his election a year ago, Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi vowed to make the fight against corruption one of his key priorities.

On Monday, the government announced the arrest of the agriculture minister over corruption allegations, making him the first high-profile official to be arrested in such a case since Sisi’s election.

“The arrest of a Salah al-Din Mahmoud Helal is a positive and very important message that shows the Egyptian government’s real intention and effort to combat corruption,” Emad al-Din Hussein, chief editor of Egyptian newspaper Al-Shorouk, told Al Arabiya News.

Helal who handed in his resignation hours before the arrest, was reportedly arrested for taking bribes to help businessmen illegally acquire state land.

Intentions

However, some analysts seem suspicious of the government’s intentions. “The whole case involving Helal seemed very fake and theatrical… and only aimed at boosting Sisi’s legitimacy, especially from the middle and lower classes,” Amr Hashem Rabie, a political researcher at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, told Al Arabiya News.

“It came at a time when Sisi has been losing popularity because of various issues,” he said, citing rising food prices and subsidy cuts.

“If the government was really doing enough, we would’ve seen more changes in Egypt’s development and economy.

“Even though the country has improved compared to the regime of [former President Hosni] Mubarak, there is clearly still corruption in Egypt.”

In the first year of Sisi’s presidency, 22 corruption cases involving state officials and institutions were reported, according to the non-governmental Partners for Transparency Foundation.

Egypt was ranked 94th in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, which measures the extent of public-sector corruption in 175 countries.

Speaking about rumors of a corruption case involving Mohammed Mokhtar Jomaa, the minister of religious endowments, Hussein said: “It is usually the Muslim Brotherhood that spreads false information through social media to tarnish the government’s image, and in that case to prevent it from curbing corruption... and bringing stability to the country.”

On Tuesday, rumors emerged on social media that Jomaa had been banned from travelling and accused of corruption.

The allegations were denied hours later by the Ministry of Religious Endowments, the Cairo-based news website Egynews.net reported.

Controversy

Helal’s corruption case has sparked debate in other Arab countries. In Tunisia, Egyptian Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb stormed out of a press conference after journalist Mokdad al-Majri asked him to explain Helal’s situation.

“I really don’t understand what pushed [Mehleb] to leave the hall,” Majri told Al Arabiya News.

“These kind of questions are asked anywhere around the world ... I wonder what would’ve happened if [Mehleb] was asked the same question in Europe or in another Arab country. I don’t think he would’ve reacted the same way.”

Mehleb’s visit to Tunisia was part of the 15th Egyptian-Tunisian High Committee meeting that resumed for the first time in five years, and was aimed at promoting bilateral ties.