It's Still Mubarak's Egypt

On the eve of a historic presidential election, one man's legacy still haunts the revolution.

Hosni Mubarak will not go away. Even as Egyptians go to the polls to elect a new president this weekend, the old one is allegedly flirting with death in a prison hospital, capturing the country's attention with conflicting reports that he has slipped into a coma, or that doctors had to revive him twice after cardiac arrest, or that he is "drinking juice."

Last year's uprising, Mubarak's flight to his home in Sharm el-Sheikh, his trial, fresh elections, and the hope of a new constitution were supposed to set Egypt on a path toward a brighter future. It has not been that easy, however. Mubarak and the institutions he put in place continue to linger like an unwanted houseguest, making a mockery of Egypt's ostensible transition to democracy.

Mubarak made an indelible mark on Egypt during the 29 years, 3 months, 28 days, and 6 hours he ruled Egypt. Even with the man behind bars, his legacy has somehow persevered, and the revolution has failed to conclusively wipe out the old order. Whether Mubarak's demise is imminent or not, he has escaped the grasp of the revolutionaries, only deepening the frustrations that have pervaded Egypt's transition. The June 2 verdict of the three-judge panel -- which acquitted his sons, Gamal and Alaa, on charges of corruption and did not actually find him guilty on charges of ordering the killings of protesters (despite his former vice president's testimony that Mubarak knew of "every bullet fired") -- puts him beyond the reach of Egyptians who were seeking some combination of justice and revenge. Many Egyptians not only wanted to see Mubarak convicted for the crimes committed during the uprising -- they wanted the verdict to reflect his regime's three decades of corruption, abuse of power, and repression.

It should not be about Mubarak any longer, yet Egypt's present drama remains a prisoner of the former president and his legacy. Mubarak is not only still making headlines, but the political, economic, and social pathologies that he spawned are pulling Egyptians back to the bad old days. An anti-Christian pogrom last October, when 28 people lost their lives after the Egyptian Army attacked a predominantly Coptic protest near downtown Cairo, was the manipulations of the previous era coming back to haunt Egyptians. In a replay of a dynamic that prevailed during the Mubarak era, that incident has driven many Copts either out of Egypt or into the arms of presidential contender Ahmed Shafiq, who served as Mubarak's last prime minister. It is the same old story: Egypt's dungeons remain filled with revolutionaries and activists who seek a just and free political system, while the people who have brutalized them sleep comfortably in their own beds.

Even the dismal choice between Egypt's two presidential candidates is evocative of the Mubarak era. Shafiq's candidacy revives the old calculation that Egyptians prefer authoritarianism over theocracy. As every profile of him notes, he was an air force commander like Mubarak. Yet that similarity is superficial, an accidental factoid. Shafiq could have been an artilleryman -- his presidential run would still represent a replay of the army's struggle against the Muslim Brotherhood that was a central theme of the Mubarak era.

How to explain that Shafiq -- a man driven from office in March 2011 by the power of Tahrir protesters -- garnered 24.2 percent of the vote in the first round of the presidential vote? The revival of the old ruling National Democratic Party's patronage networks likely played a role, but there is an even bleaker explanation: The revolutionary narrative about the Mubarak era may be weaker than previously believed. The polls show that Egyptians want democracy and will sacrifice much to get it, but the same polls also show that Egyptians want security and stability above all else. Consider Egypt strictly by the numbers, and the Mubarak era may have begun to look better to Egyptians -- and not just to the felool, or remnants of the previous power structure.

The Egypt that Mubarak officially inherited from Anwar Sadat on Oct. 14, 1981, was very different from the country that slipped from his grasp on Feb. 11, 2011. On the eve of the uprising, many of Egypt's critical macroeconomic indicators were pointing in the right direction: GDP growth was healthy, the debt-to-GDP ratio was manageable, foreign reserves were up, and foreign direct investment was flowing. To be sure, not all Egyptians were benefiting from this state of affairs. However, if one surveys the daunting economic, social, and political problems they confront now, it seems that millions of Egyptians are thinking the unthinkable -- that someone who represents the Mubarak period is the appropriate person to lead the country into what would most likely be a not-so-new era.

Regardless of who prevails, Shafiq or the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi, the revolutionary promise of Tahrir Square has in many respects faded away. Egypt will never be the same, but it will not likely be what the activists imagined during the uprising. Even if Morsi does win -- propelled to the presidency by an "anyone but Shafiq" effort by revolutionaries and liberals -- his invocation of the revolution cannot hide the fact that the Brothers were slow to join the uprising and their democratic credentials are questionable.

In what seems like another time, Wael Ghonim, a celebrated figure in the uprising, laid out the foundational beliefs of the revolution: "We have to restore dignity to all Egyptians. We have to end corruption. No more theft. Egyptians are good people." Those sentiments still exist, but making them a reality is far more complex than Ghonim or anyone else had imagined. Even lying semi-comatose on a gurney in Tora prison hospital, Hosni Mubarak has found a way to haunt Egypt's political future.



Bipolar Policy on Equatorial Guinea

The Justice Department turns up the heat against a resource-rich dictatorship as the State Department helps its leader buff his image.

The minister of forestry of Equatorial Guinea, a tiny West African country, refused to offer foreign companies timber export licenses unless they bribed him. He took payment in personal checks or suitcases filled with cash. Companies that paid him off could log wherever they liked, including in national forest reserves allegedly protected under the country's laws. Companies that refused to pay bribes got kicked out of the country and had their property and equipment stolen.

These allegations are contained in an amended civil forfeiture complaint filed on Monday, June 11, by the U.S. Justice Department that seeks tens of millions of dollars in assets belonging to Teodorin Obiang, the notoriously corrupt son of Equatorial Guinea's long-ruling dictator. The U.S. government charges that the assets -- which include a lavish estate in Malibu, California, and more than $1 million in Michael Jackson memorabilia, including a "white crystal-covered 'Bad Tour' glove" -- were bought with corrupt money laundered in the United States.

The Justice Department filed its original complaint last October. Obiang's attorneys argued that the complaint be dismissed on the grounds of insufficient evidence of corruption; on April 12, U.S. District Judge George Wu said he would dismiss the case unless the Justice Department provided more evidence within 60 days.

June 11's filing was the government's reply. While there has long been overwhelming common-sense evidence of Teodorin's corruption, the complaint filed June 11 added substantial previously undisclosed details.

Teodorin's father, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, has ruled Equatorial Guinea since he took power in a 1979 coup. The country is rich in oil and has a per capita annual income of $19,300, on par with Hungary, but most of the population lives in dire poverty. That hasn't stopped President Obiang from lining his pockets: He somehow managed to place eighth on a 2006 list by Forbes of the world's richest leaders, with a fortune estimated at $600 million.

Obiang recently appointed son Teodorin as the country's vice president and clearly intends to turn power over to him when he decides to retire. The Obiang family is being investigated for massive corruption in France and Spain, as well as in the United States. In Spain, a court is investigating a complaint that alleges that 11 of the president's relatives and associates bought properties in Madrid and the Canary Islands with $26.5 million in laundered money. Teodorin is at the center of the French case. Last September, police seized 11 luxury vehicles outside his Paris residence, near the Champs-Élysées.

According to the Justice Department, Obiang in 1993 awarded Teodorin -- then 24 years old -- logging concessions on nearly 90,000 acres of rain forest. The following year, Teodorin was named minister of agriculture and forestry. As minister, Teodorin receives a modest salary of about $5,000 per month, which the Justice Department says is "inconsistent" with his lavish spending habits. In addition to his Malibu mansion, Teodorin owns a $38.5 million Gulfstream V jet and a small fleet of luxury cars, including Ferraris, Bugattis, Maseratis, and Porsches.

The Justice Department's updated complaint contains astonishing details of Teodorin's corrupt stewardship of his country's national forests. It says that he demanded companies pay him $27 per log exported and that these "personal fees were calculated by technicians" on his ministerial staff. The complaint alleges that a Malaysian company called Shimmer paid him especially high bribes and in return was "provided unfettered access" to the country's forests, including protected reserves.

All timber companies in Equatorial Guinea are required by law to provide for forest regeneration and invest in community health facilities, churches, and schools, but according to the complaint, Teodorin did not require companies owned by himself or his mother, "all of whom have substantial forestry concessions in E.G., to comply with these rules." The complain cites an unnamed national of Equatorial Guinea who owned a timber firm as saying that Teodorin's companies "had no function other than to open bank accounts and receive illegal payments."

The complaint also says that Teodorin told one senior executive of a foreign firm that the executive would "suffer" because he refused to pay bribes. The unnamed executive was later arrested and jailed. When he was freed he left the country upon the advice of "an E.G. national familiar with [Teodorin]" who told him he should flee immediately "if he did not want his children in Europe to become orphans."

But even as the Justice Department finally pursues Obiang's ill-begotten American assets, the State Department is participating in a hush-hush roundtable event on June 15 with human rights groups, academics, and Capitol Hill staff, with none other than President Obiang as the star attraction. The media are barred from the event, and the Wilson Center, which is hosting the dialogue, has told participants not to talk to reporters about it. (Full disclosure: Among the invited NGOs is the Open Society Foundations, where I am a fellow.) But the guest list and agenda are secret.

The invitation reads:

The Wilson Center's Africa Program invites you to participate in a unique event, "Differing Perspectives on Equatorial Guinea -- A Dialogue with H. E. President Obiang Nguema Mbasogo." This will be a small, private, invitation-only conversation on Friday, June 15, at 11am in the 6th Floor Boardroom with a select group of academic, NGO, Hill and opinion leaders. We will begin with remarks from the U.S. Department of State's Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, Ambassador Johnnie Carson, followed by a short presentation from the President and an open exchange will ensue. The event will be closed to the press and will observe the Chatham House Rule. Please note that this invitation is not transferable.

Asked about the event, Steve McDonald of the Wilson Center said that it was "hosting this meeting at the request of the State Department as a small, private, invitation-only conversation between Obiang and Carson, plus a few opinion leaders from NGOs, the Hill and academia.… We are not telling anyone not to say the meeting is taking place. It is just private.… We have received no financial or other incentives to do this, but do it in a continuing commitment to facilitate dialogue that can lead to democratic and peaceful change in countries where those ideals are not being met."

Meanwhile, another Washington institution, the Leon H. Sullivan Foundation, is planning a more direct PR job for the Obiang clan. It is hosting a summit this August in Equatorial Guinea "to promote open dialog and ground-up communication between the people of Africa, local and international organizations and government institutions." The foundation is offering an all-inclusive travel package with the reasonable -- and cute -- price of $2012.

Last December, Obiang received the "Beacon for Africa" award at a Sullivan Foundation dinner in Washington. The foundation "empowers underprivileged people worldwide," according to its website.

Mike DeGeurin, Teodorin's attorney, did not reply to a request for comment.

The State Department has promised a reply to a request for comment, but has not sent it as of publication time.

Update: The State Department responds:

"The idea for the meeting arose from a discussion between President Obiang and Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Johnnie Carson. The State Department has worked with Wilson Center on the meeting and Assistant Secretary Carson will participate in the meeting.

An open and frank exchange between a government and representatives of civil society organizations and other groups interested in and knowledgeable about Equatorial Guinea and Africa overall can provide valuable insights to all participants."