Tuesday,18 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1270, (12 - 18 November 2015)
Tuesday,18 September, 2018
Issue 1270, (12 - 18 November 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Reading between the lines

The timing and manner of the arrest of business tycoon Salah Diab begs many questions, writes Mohamed Abdel-Baky

Al-Ahram Weekly

At dawn on Sunday, security forces arrested businessman and founder of Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper Salah Diab and his son Tawfik on charges of possessing unlicenced weapons. While searching Diab’s villa in Shabramant, Giza, police say they found three unlicenced automatic rifles.

The arrest warrant was issued two days after Prosecutor-General Nabil Sadek froze all assets and properties owned by Diab and his wife, including the Sunset Hills Company. Cairo Criminal Court is due to issue a ruling on the asset freeze within days.

The Egyptian Stock Exchange also froze all stocks and accounts belonging to Diab. On Tuesday, the detention of Diab was renewed for another 15 days pending investigations.

Diab’s lawyer, Farid Al-Deeb, said all charges levelled against Diab and his son were fabricated and the real aim of the prosecution was to force Diab to tone down reports published in Al-Masry Al-Youm.

After results of the first stage of parliamentary elections were made public, Al-Masry Al-Youm ran a report stating that 84 former members of the now-dissolved National Democratic Party had won seats in the House of Representatives.

Tawfik Okasha, owner of the controversial Al-Faraeen channel, rebuked Diab for the news story on air. “Be careful,” warned Okasha, “the reply will be painful.” Okasha accused Diab of stirring strife and claimed that most of the staff working at Al-Masry Al-Youm are members of the Muslim Brotherhood.

In a statement issued on Sunday, the Interior Ministry did not detail the charges against Diab, saying only that his detention was ordered by the general-prosecutor.

Al-Deeb said that the only charge his client faces is possession of unlicenced weapons and denied reports that Diab also faces corruption charges.

Tarek Al-Assar, head of the Public Funds Prosecution Bureau, has been quoted as saying his office did not issue a warrant for the arrest of Diab.

Diab claims he acquired the weapons for personal protection in the wake of the 2011 Revolution that toppled former president Hosni Mubarak.

In April 2011, the Public Funds Prosecution Bureau said Diab and his partners had acquired agricultural land on the Alexandria Desert Road from the Ministry of Agriculture at below-market prices and then constructed tourist resorts on the plots in violation of the contract.

It was claimed that Sunset Hills Company, owned by Diab, obtained 750 feddans of land at LE 300 per feddan. The prevailing price of one feddan at the time of the purchase, however, was between LE 5,000 and LE 7,000. Although the charges of illegal profiteering have been around for the past four years, no court ruling against Diab has ever been issued.

Hisham Kassem, former publisher of Al-Masry Al-Youm, believes Diab’s arrest may be linked to the newspaper’s content. Since the paper’s chief editor, Mahmoud Mosallam, resigned last October, the paper’s coverage has become more critical of the state, said Kassem.

Diab’s arrest, and the way the police executed the arrest warrant, has stirred heated debate.

The Federation of Egyptian Industries issued a statement on Sunday afternoon criticising the manner in which Diab was arrested, including the publication of photographs showing Diab in handcuffs.

“These photos project a negative image for potential investors in Egypt,” the statement said. The federation went on to ask the Ministry of Interior to “preserve Egypt’s civilised image”.

Alia Al-Mahdi, professor of political sciences at Cairo University, said the move could have a negative effect on investment and discourage businessmen from working in Egypt.

“We are sending a negative message to the business community,” Al-Mahdi said on her Facebook account. “Salah Diab is one of the biggest businessmen in Egypt. He works in different sectors, including petrol, agriculture and restaurants, and his companies employ at least 10,000 people.”

She continued, “There is no objection against questioning him or his son but the manner of his dawn arrest was not good at all. Why didn’t the prosecutor general simply summon him for investigation?”

“What message does the government want to send to us?” asked Ibrahim Eissa, presenter of the talk show in Al-Qahera Wel Nas satellite channel. “How can it call on the business community to invest in Egypt while showing them no respect?”

“The message is that no matter who you are, no matter what contribution you make to this country, we will take you down if you play around,” Eissa concluded.

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