The Al Capones of Egypt

May 11th, 2011

In the wake of Egypt’s revolution that forced President Hosni Mubarak to step down on February 11th, the country’s

Al Capone

Al Capone in federal court in Chicago on Oct. 7, 1931 during his tax evasion trial with his attorneys Michael Ahern, left, and Albert Fink. | Galaxy fm/Flickr*

interim government has been making a lot of changes, including taking decisive action against the former administration.  The Egyptian government has imprisoned a host of powerful former statesmen under Mubarak including Gamal and Alaa Mubarak, sons of the former president, whom authorities detained for 15 days and questioned about corruption and abuse.  Also imprisoned were Ahmed Nazif, the former prime minister; Zakaria Azmi, the president’s right-hand man; and Fathi Sorour, the former speaker of Parliament.  In April, Egypt’s Supreme Court ruled the National Democratic Party, Mubarak’s once dominating political party, would be dissolved and its assets seized by the government.  Last week, an Egyptian court sentenced the former interior minister, Habib el-Adly, to 12 years in prison and fined him about $4 million for profiting illegally from his office and money laundering.

But el-Adly’s crimes don’t stop there.  In April a state-appointed fact-finding mission found el-Adly—and Mubarak—responsible for the deaths of 850 protestors killed in violence in anti-government unrest because el-Adly, as the president’s interior minister, ordered security forces to use live ammunition on protestors.  Other human rights groups have accused el-Adly of routine police brutality over his decade of service as Mubarak’s security chief.  El-Adly is now awaiting his second trial relating to his role in these attacks.

Corruption—in and of itself—is a direct violation of human rights. Kanokkan Anukansai, program manager for Transparency International Thailand, points out that a “corrupt political system denies the fundamental right of political participation [and] a corrupt judicial system violates the basic right to equality before the law.”  I have pointed out that corruption in public safety can lead to otherwise avoidable, and therefore unforgivable, deaths in the wake of a natural disaster, which is a violation of rights to life.

Corruption also indirectly violates human rights as it decreases economic prosperity, which can violate the rights to an adequate standard of living.  This graph, published by the Economist and reproduced by a human rights blog, illustrates the relationship perfectly.  It shows there is a strong inverse correlation between a nation’s score on Transparency International’s corruption index and its GDP per capita.  Of course this does not ensure causation. Anecdotally, however, I could list hundreds of examples of corrupt dictators and autocrats who have plundered their nations’ wealth, stood idly by while their citizens to live in destitution, and then purchased one of the world’s largest and most expensive superyachts… or something else as blatantly offensive.  Some scholars have indeed argued that “because corruption and human rights violations are mutually reinforcing forms of abuse,” we should “approach economic crimes in the same way” we approach “civil and political rights violations.”

This leads me to the third link between corruption and human rights violations: the correlation between rulers who commit acts of corruption and those who engage in (other) more violent crimes against humanity.  The amount of anecdotal evidence displaying these links is staggering.  Other than el-Adly and Obiang, whom I’ve already mentioned, infamous corrupt/violent leaders include Idi Amin of Uganda, whose regime allegedly accounted for the deaths of 100,000 to 500,000 people; Sani Obacha of Nigeria; and Suharto of Indonesia.

The direct and indirect links between corruption and human rights violations are well-documented, clear, and provide compelling evidence for any human rights campaigner to join the anti-corruption cause.  Yet the correlation between those individuals who happen to commit both acts of corruption and violent crimes against humanity is both revealing and important.  It is often difficult, if not impossible, to charge or punish sitting leaders of either crime, both domestically and internationally.  But as we have seen many times before, it is sometimes clearer cut to support evidence of financial crimes than human ones.

Al Capone, after all, was arrested for tax evasion.

* Image License: Some rights reserved

Written by Ann Hollingshead

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