The rise and fall of Egyptian presidential hopeful Sami Anan

In the early hours of Saturday January 20, former Egyptian Chief of Staff Major General Sami Anan announced his intention to run for president in the upcoming elections. The Tuesday after, Anan was arrested and a statement by the Armed Forces, aired on state TV, announced he is being investigated for a number of violations.

These include breaking military codes by running for a political post without obtaining the necessary permissions, incitement against the army, and forgery of election documents. Between the surprise of the presidential bid and the shock of the presidential hopeful’s quick demise, countless questions beg for an answer.

According to General Sayed Hashem, former head of the Military Judiciary, Anan’s actions are punishable under the military penal code. “Sami Anan is still subject to be recalled by the army, which means that according to military law he needs to get permission before running for president,” he said. “He also forged official documents in order to have his name listed among potential presidential candidates.”

Hashem added that Anan is also accused of inciting the people against the Egyptian army, in reference to his criticism of the current regime. “Incitement can be punished by expulsion from the army, but this is just a disciplinary action,” Hashem added. “However, the other charges are definitely punishable by prison sentences according to military law.”

Journalist Mohamed Basal quoted a legal source as saying that all members of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces SCAF have since the January 2011 revolution become on call for life after they reach the age of retirement.

“This applies to Anan who had to submit a former request to end his on-call status before running for president and can only run after obtaining the approval of the minister of defense,” he wrote. Basal explained that this did not apply to current president Abdel Fatah al-Sisi who had not reached the age of retirement when he decided to run for president. “He, therefore, went through different procedures.”

Alliance with the Brotherhood?

Apart from the legal violations Anan might have committed, speculations over the political aspect of the issue have been rife. This particularly applied to talk about a possible alliance between Anan and the Muslim Brotherhood. For political analyst Akram al-Alfi, Anan was the only candidate through whom they can go back to the political scene. “Also, it was in Anan’s best interest to curry favor with entities known for their opposition of the current regime and of course the Muslim Brotherhood were on top of those,” he said.

“The same applies to revolutionary youths.” That is why, Alfi argued, Anan chose two figures for vice presidents that are acceptable by both. Expert in political Islam Ahmed Ban refuted this argument and stressed that Anan is as much of an enemy for the Muslim Brotherhood as Sisi. “We should not forget that it was former president Mohamed Morsi who dismissed Anan,” he said. “Plus, while the Muslim Brotherhood would want to support a candidate who can challenge Sisi, they will never do so if this candidate does not give them the guarantees they want and Anan did not do that.” Ban added that the Muslim Brotherhood are no longer one voting entity as they were before, so it is very hard to determine who they might support. “The group disintegrated after Morsi’s ouster and it no longer has the mobilizing power it enjoyed before and which reached its peak in 2012.”

Political analyst and senior nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council H. A. Hellyer argued that it was in the best interest of the Egyptian administration to stop Anan from running. “Anan never stood a chance of winning the election, but he did stand an excellent chance of disrupting the system more generally,” he said. “It doesn’t seem like the establishment is remotely interested in that scenario in the slightest – a critical mass within the establishment is on the same page, and isn’t willing to let anyone not on the same page to move beyond particular lines.”

Middle East expert Nirvana Mahmoud argued that Sami Anan miscalculated many of his moves and that was the main reason for his downfall. “How could an army officer as experienced as Anan announce running for president before getting an official permission from the army?” she wrote. Mahmoud added that Anan made a grave mistake through not clarifying his stance on the Muslim Brotherhood from the beginning, which opened the door for speculations. “This was made worse when Muslim Brotherhood financial strategist Youssef Nada announced that the group has six conditions for supporting Anan.” Mahmoud also expressed her surprise that Anan was naïve enough to assume that the Egyptian people would favor him over Sisi.

“If the two are ex-army generals, then of course they will choose the one who is already in power and who has for them proven that he is capable of ruling, hence obviously stronger.” According to Mahmoud, another miscalculation is associated with Anan’s supporters or rather Sisi’s opponents. “Many people who supported Anan did so only to oppose Sisi and without even knowing what his platform is, which made it clear that Anan’s camp is detached from the common aspirations of the Egyptian people.”

Meanwhile, Amnesty International issued a statement condemning Anan’s arrest as a violation of political rights and alleging that targeting potential presidential candidates has become a common practice by the Egyptian authorities.

“Sami Anan is among a growing number of candidates arrested or convicted on trumped up charges by the Egyptian authorities shortly after announcing their candidacy for the March 2018 presidential elections.” The statement referred to former army colonel Ahmed Konsowa, sentenced to six months in jails for violating military laws, former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik, deported from the UAE and detained upon arrival in Egypt, and leftist lawyer Khaled Ali, tried for violation of public decency.

Is reopening of Egypt’s ‘unlicensed’ churches a step toward sectarian stability?

The Egyptian Ministry of Housing has issued a decree allowing Christians to perform their prayers in unlicensed churches until they obtain permits as official houses of worship.

The decision came in response to requests submitted by representatives of Egypt’s main Churches at the committee formed in January 2017 to look into the legalization of unlicensed churches in accordance with law number 80 for the year 2016 on the construction of churches.

The Coptic Orthodox Church submitted a list of 2,600 churches and service centers that need to be official organized — 450 Anglican Churches and 120 Catholic Churches. While this step puts an end to the impasse that followed the closure of a few churches in Upper Egypt for lack of permits, it does not necessarily eliminate concerns over the eruption of more sectarian clashes.

According to the Bishop Michael Antoun, representative of the Coptic Orthodox Church at the committee in charge of legalizing unlicensed churches, representatives submitted the names of unlicensed churches to request a license.

“Our church submitted a list of 2,600 churches that needed to be legalized under the 2016 law and when we did not get the license we asked the state for an explanation,” he said. “The response was that those churches will work normally provided that their names are on the list on churches seeking license.”

The extremist threat to churches

Karim Kamal, president of the Union of Copts for Nation, said the ministry’s decision constitutes a positive step towards implementing the 2016 law on the construction of churches, which facilitates building and renovating churches and church-affiliated centers.

“However, it is important to note that the state, the governors, and the ministries of housing or interior were never our main concern,” he said. “In fact, all Copts remember how the state helped us in 2013, when the Armed Forces rebuilt the churches burnt down by the Muslim Brotherhood following the June 30 protests.”

The problem, Kamal explained, lies in extremist groups that wield influence in a considerable number of villages in the countryside and Upper Egypt.

“These groups are always ready to start clashes over churches, which in turn drives security forces to close those churches in an attempt to solve the problem,” he added, in reference to the closure in October 2017 of four churches in Minya governorate in Upper Egypt following attacks by Islamist extremists who objected to the use of houses as places of worship and the attack on another house turned into a church in Giza governorate in December 2017.

Bureaucratic hassles

Journalist Hani Sabri Labib does not see the Ministry of Housing’s decision as a breakthrough, but rather argues that no development was made at all. “The 2016 law on the construction of churches states that unlicensed churches should be legalized, so the ministry’s decision not to stop prayers in these churches is not progress,” he said. “In fact, we are back to square one because licenses should have been issued by now, which is not the case.”

Labib noted that the committee in charge of looking into the status of unlicensed churches was formed four months after the law was issued, which meant that the churches lost one third of the year they were given to submit the necessary paperwork. “After submitting the lists and waiting, we expected to receive the licenses, but we only got a decision that prayers won’t stop, which was already a given,” he added.

“Christians pay for those delays as they are subjected to more attacks under the pretext that their houses of worship are not licensed.” Labib argued that official licenses are likely to reduce those attacks. Journalist Emad al-Din Hussein agrees with Labib as far as the repercussion of lack of permits are concerned. He cites the example of the attack that targeted a church in the district of Helwan in southern Cairo in December 2017.

“Because the church was not licensed, the owner of the building, who is supposed to be the victim was also arrested and will be tried, and the attackers were charged with vandalizing public property and not attacking a church, hence not treated as terrorists,” he wrote.

According to Hussein, the issue of unlicensed churches goes back to restrictions imposed on the construction of churches, which is to a great extent linked to the state’s inclination to avoid inciting sectarian violence usually triggered by building churches in areas where extremists are influential.

“The state tries to avoid provoking ultra-conservatives. Christians, therefore, are forced to turn their own private property into houses of worship and they are attacked for that too, and so on.”

High number of closed churches

According to Coptic lawyer Ihab Ramzi, the number of churches that have been closed for being unlicensed amounts to 258. “These churches are included in the lists and we are expecting them to be opened as part of the decision to resume prayers in unlicensed churches,” he said.

Journalist Hamdi Rizk said that the state should have at least opened several of the closed churches on the occasion of the Coptic Christmas, which falls on January 7 of every year. “This would have coincided with the opening of the Coptic Chrurch in the New Capital, hence delivering a strong message about the state’s stance vis-à-vis the Christian community,” he wrote.

“Since a closed church is a symbol of the triumph of sectarianism, opening those churches is the first step towards eliminating the excuse extremists use to target Christian houses of worship.”

Lifting the freeze on Mubarak’s assets in Switzerland: Why now?

The Swiss Federal Council lifted the freeze on the assets of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak following the end of the mutual legal assistance between Egypt and Switzerland.

The agreement between the two governments, which had been renewed on December of each year and which is the typical arrangement between the Swiss government and other governments that request that retrieval of illicit money deposited in Swiss banks, was terminated by Swiss authorities. This decision brought back to the forefront an issue that had for quite a while preoccupied Egyptians following the president’s ouster, especially that getting that money back became at a certain time one of the goals of the 2011 revolution. Now that the assets are unfrozen, a question about the timing seems inevitable.

Before speculating over what would happen to the money, it is important to note that the unfrozen amount is the not the same as the one frozen in 2011 for the amount was reduced from 590 million Swiss francs to 430 million Swiss francs as a result of dropping the names of several individuals linked to the frozen assets whether because they were acquitted of the charges they faced or struck reconciliation agreements with Egyptian authorities. “After almost seven years since the freeze was imposed in 2011 and despite the joint efforts undertaken, the cooperation between the two countries has failed to produce the anticipated results,” said the statement issued by the Federal Council to justify ending the agreement, adding that lifting the freeze does not mean that the assets will be released right away.

Tunisian ex-leader’s assets

“They remain sequestered within the framework of criminal proceedings in Switzerland being conducted by the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland for the purpose of determining whether or not their origin is licit.” The statement also explained why the same was not applied to former Tunisian President Zein al-Abedin Bin Ali’s assets, which amount to 56 million Swiss francs and whose freeze was renewed for another year. Unlike Egypt, judicial authorities in Tunisia are still proceeding with their cases against Bin Ali and his associates, which means court rulings can determine that the origin of these assets is illicit. “The Federal Council’s decision to extend the freeze on the assets is warranted because this objective has not yet been fully met while the legal conditions for its extension remain valid. This one-year extension is expected to yield tangible progress in pending proceedings and increase the likelihood of the assets being returned to the country of origin.”

Mubarak’s lawyer Farid al-Deeb issued a statement following the Federal Council’s decision to underline that freezing the assets was in the first place a precautionary procedure on the part of the Swiss authorities and was not based on any proof that this money was obtained illicitly. “The list of people linked to the frozen assets included Mubarak’s name even though there was no proof that he personally owned any assets abroad,” said Deed. “And I always made sure to stress throughout my defense that he did not own any and that it was all the result of a media campaign that alleged so.” Deeb referred to a part of the Swiss Federal Council statement which clarified that not every person whose name is listed in the ordinance on frozen assets does necessarily own assets in Switzerland and that this applies to Mubarak.

According to journalist Mohamed al-Masry, around 300 million Swiss francs of the frozen 430 million actually belong to Mubarak’s sons Alaa and Gamal, in reference to the fact that Mubarak’s name was added to the list not because he personally owned money, but rather because of his role in facilitating the illicit acquisition and smuggling of his sons’ money. “The Swiss prosecutor general will now look into the origins of the money and if nothing proves they were obtained illicitly, the money will be released,” he wrote. Masry quoted professor of international law Ibrahim Ahmed Ibrahim as saying that in this case within two years, all the names of the list will get the money back.

Mubarak’s salary

When asked why the Federal Council decided not to renew the freeze any longer, expert on international law Hassan Omar said that Switzerland gave Egypt more than one opportunity to take decisive steps, but nothing happened.

“Egypt was supposed to submit court rulings which prove that individuals linked to the frozen assets were found guilty of corruption, especially that Egypt had signed the anti- money laundering agreement a long time before the 2011 uprising,” he said. “According to this agreement, money that officials get through illicit means or from unknown sources and smuggle abroad are to be frozen and those officials should be tried for corruption.” However, Omar added, no court ruling were issued against the officials linked to the frozen money and no documents to prove their corruption were submitted to the Swiss government, which for the Swiss meant that no progress was being made so the agreement was terminated.

Economic analyst Mustafa Abdel Salam blames the Egyptian government for wasting the opportunity to retrieve the frozen the money by not providing the necessary documents needed by the Swiss. “The Egyptian government could have proven that this money was produced through illicit means, which would mean that they belong to the Egyptian people,” he wrote.

“For example, it was easy to prove that Mubarak’s monthly salary did not exceed $808 according to official documents, therefore he couldn’t have accumulated all this wealth through licit means.” Abdel Salam added that the government could have also sent copies of all court rulings issued against Mubarak and his two sons Alaa and Gamal and which prove they were found guilty in corruption charges and could have proven that Mubarak and his aides made Egypt lose billions of dollars over the years when he decided to sell natural gas to Israel for the cheapest of prices. “The Swiss government’s decision is indicative of lack of cooperation on the part of the Egyptian government, especially that the same decision was not made with bin Ali’s money for example,” he added.