Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1348, (8 - 14 June 2017)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1348, (8 - 14 June 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Scorn for public opinion

The government and its agencies appear yet to learn the lessons of the 25 January Revolution, among which transparency and respect for public opinion are key, writes Mohamed Salmawy

What is most surprising about the controversy over the demolition of the homes of some public figures allegedly because the land on which they were built had been embezzled from state-owned property is the total silence on the part of the government body responsible for this action. That agency does not feel compelled to respond to charges that it has exceeded its jurisdiction and trespassed on the rights of property owners whose titles meet the legal requirements. Nor does it feel that the general public has a right to know the truth about what happened. It is though it has failed to grasp the political developments that have taken place in the country since the 25 January Revolution and the consequent need for a high degree of transparency in government performance. Such transparency had been lacking for decades and that lack was one of the causes of the grassroots uprising that toppled the Mubarak regime.

To me, this attitude is far graver than the wrongful demolition of buildings or the abuse of authorities on the part of the agency responsible in order to defame former officials who lost their title to those buildings years ago while also failing to mention that the title of some of these buildings had been restored to their owners through legitimate inheritance rather than through the plunder of public assets. This, in fact, is what the press had to explain to public opinion, in the course of the performance of the inherent duties of the press, while the government offered no explanation whatsoever.

Oddly, the people targeted by the campaign to demolish homes and slander their owners were among the most honest and upstanding individuals in a regime that mostly consisted of people notorious for their abuse of power and illicit gains. One of the first names on the target list was the artist Farouk Hosny. In spite of relentless attempts, during the anarchy that prevailed after the revolution, to sully his reputation and drag him before the courts on various trumped up charges, not a single sentence was passed against him. In the meantime, he sold the villa that he had built on land that he had purchased from locals (which is to say it was not state land) in the area of Manial Shiha in Giza. The purchaser was a Yemeni entrepreneur, a friend of Egypt whose investments in our country exceed LE10 million. This was the first mistake of that agency that informed the press that it had demolished the home of a former minister, thereby proving its determination to apply the law to all. However, if anyone was penalised, it was that Arab investor who had chosen Egypt as a home for himself and his family. He could have bought some chateau in Switzerland overlooking Lake Geneva or with an alpine vista, but he chose the home of a well-known Egyptian artist overlooking the Nile.

The second demolition case, photographs of which were leaked to the press, was the home of a former prime minister also acquitted of all charges brought against him. The photographs splashed across the front pages of our press showed bulldozers razing the home of Ahmed Nazif as well as the house next door said to belong to the heirs to Ali Nazif. Again, the former prime minister did not purchase the property or any other property from the state. Rather, his father, Captain Mahmoud Nazif, had purchased the land from its owners who were farmers, and he and his brother, Ali Nazif, each built a rural home of their own on the land belonging to them. When Mahmoud Nazif died, the title passed to all his children, not just to Ahmed Nazif, who never added a single brick. As for the heirs to Ali Nazif, there is no legacy yet because he is still alive.

Is it possible that the committee responsible for recuperating state property acted in accordance with erroneous information to such an extent? Could it be that they announced that they had demolished the home of Farouk Hosny when in fact the house belonged to someone else in accordance with officially registered deeds that committee members knew nothing about? Is it right for the committee to notify the press that it demolished the houses of Ahmed Nazif and the heirs of Ali Nazif, implying that he had abused his position as prime minister in order to purloin state property whereas the truth is that he did not acquire the land illegitimately, that he did not even purchase the home that had passed down to him from his father, and that there are no official heirs to Ali Nazif who is still very much alive?

There is no need to continue further in this vein apart from to say that the gross mistakes were exposed because the persons in question were well known figures. Now how many other mistakes might have occurred when it came to the homes of other people who are unknown to the public? I hope that the cases of Farouk Hosny and Ahmed Nazif are isolated exceptions and that similar mistakes did not occur with the other cases that came under review of the committee. In fact, I prefer to believe this since the person in charge of that committee is former prime minister Ibrahim Mehleb whose integrity is beyond suspicion.

Still, there remain pending questions because the committee did not act in accordance with the requirements of political transparency or the established principles of democratic practice. It let everyone say this and that without bothering to respond to questions and rumours, while disregarded public opinion remained unaware that the committee had made mistakes. This is unacceptable. While it is possible to accept mistakes from any other government body, because to err is human, we cannot accept mistakes from this committee because of the very reason it was formed. The committee was created to fight the illicit acquisition of state land. It is therefore unacceptable that it, itself, should seize land to which it does not have a lawful right. If this occurred by mistake on the basis of false information, then the tragedy is even worse.

Now let’s turn to that even graver mistake committed by the committee as well as by all government agencies: Disregard for public opinion and the people’s right to know the truth. As a result of this mistake, the field is left open to journalistic speculation, rumours or those who seize upon the absence of a government voice to fill in the blanks with fabrications concocted by organisations hostile to the government that the people elected out of their own free will after overthrowing Muslim Brotherhood rule on 30 June 2013.

Those inflammatory messages that are spreading like cancer across social networking sites and by means of rumour mongers deployed in public transport are ultimately intended to serve the interests of political groups rejected by the people. This is one of the consequences of that total silence on the part of the government that has yet to learn how to communicate with the public in a constructive way and yet to appreciate the need to explain its policies to the people in order to win the public to its side. Today, we have an official committee formed by the government being accused of the very crime it was created to combat. Yet none of its members speak out or take the initiative to explain the facts. The case of the demolition of houses is an example of a fixed policy of disregard for public opinion, the people’s right to the truth and the need to earn their trust in the sound judgement of our government bodies.

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