from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

Egypt: Corruption and the Presidency

May 09, 2011

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Egypt

Much has been written about the effort to find bank accounts and other property belonging to the Mubarak family and to others who were powerful figures in the Mubarak regime. Whether that effort has crossed over from a fair inquiry into persecution of some wealthy businessmen is a subject for another day. Certainly the people of Egypt have a right to recover any moneys stolen from them through corruption during the Mubarak years, and to prosecute wrongdoers.

But however important it is to punish wrongdoing by those now gone from power, is it not more important to keep from power others who may have been corrupt? Is it not more important to prevent future corruption?

With this in mind, Egyptians should now demand to understand the financial affairs of any candidate for the presidency and of his family. Do any of the men who will present themselves for that office have foreign bank accounts and properties? If so, where and what are they? What is the value? If it is many millions, what was the source of those funds?

All presidential candidates should be forced to divulge their wealth, just as they are in the United States and many other countries. One benefit is that if that wealth increases while they are in office in the future, Egyptians can rightly demand to know how that happened and whether corrupt payments were involved. Another benefit is that candidates will be forced to make a (presumably sworn) statement upon whose accuracy their political futures will depend. If someone declares a small amount and is then shown to have a huge Swiss account or gorgeous London town house, he will pay the political price and face legal sanctions.

Perhaps all of the candidates will prove to have lived as ascetics. Perhaps all will be able to show the legitimate source of all the funds and properties they and their families own. And perhaps not; indeed adoption of this requirement may even make some people think twice about entering the race. But given the history of public corruption and the outrage it has stirred in Egypt, thinking about the wealth of the next president and not only the last should be a key part of the transition to democracy.

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