Financial disputes, particularly in Syria, and court hearings, most recently in Algeria, are all examples of relationships that have brought money and power men together in the Arab world “in a way that does not reach the public interest.” A relationship that brings money to its parties and often ends in corruption scandals?
The current dispute between the Syrian regime, led by Bashar al-Assad, and his cousin, businessman Rami Makhlouf, opens the door wide to talk about the relationship between money and power in the Arab world.
And this kind of relationship between men of money and men of power, surrounded by many question marks. Although the long Arab legacy of these relationships shows that it often begins with profit and ends with great losses; However, these are frequent and renewed relationships in the Arab countries for many reasons!
Systems are the source of power and wealth
In Algeria, for example, the two former prime ministers, Ahmed Ouyahia and Abdelmalek Sellal, are being tried along with former ministers and governors on corruption charges that include “receiving undue benefits, wasting public money and exploiting the government post for personal purposes.” . ” A well-known businessman, Ali Haddad, is also on trial, as is Mohieddin Tahkot.
If Ouyahia and Sellal are considered the first heads of government in the history of Algeria to be sentenced to prison: 15 years for Ouyahia and 12 years for Sellal in the case known in the media as “foreign car assemblies”, then Ali Haddad, owner of the largest private construction company in Algeria, is the first public figure In connection with the late President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, she is being jailed in a case related to his passport.
Khalid bin Rashid Al-Khater, a specialist in political economy, points out in an interview that “the absence of transparency, control and accountability over public money in the Arab world leads to the transformation of the private sector into an expansion of the state, whether through businessmen affiliated with the regimes or beneficiary networks. ”
Regarding Professor of Political Science at the University of Cairo, Mustafa Kamel El-Sayed, he explains that regimes in the Arab world always play a key role in the economy, whether because of the large size of the state’s public sector or because the main source of revenue comes from sectors controlled by the state. In both cases, businessmen in the Arab world constantly remain in need of a good relationship with the government, as it is “necessary”, either to obtain opportunities for production or to protect their wealth, because the regimes in the Arab countries “is still a source of both power and wealth.”
The private sector and the defense of its interests
Kamel al-Sayed claims that establishing a relationship between money and power in a country causes problems when that relationship does not fall within the framework of achieving the public interest, such as the provision of jobs and decent services to citizens. In turn, this relationship could lead to the neglect of important sectors such as education and health, as happened before in 2011 in Egypt and Tunisia, as he put it.
Egyptian businessmen’s media adviser Saeed Al-Atrash says “the public interest can be a measure” to assess the relationship between businessmen and the government. He claims: “It is not a disgrace for the private sector to defend its interests, which also benefits large sectors of society.”
With mention of Egypt and Tunisia, following the outbreak of two revolutions in 2011, the two countries saw hearings of businessmen affiliated with the regimes of the late presidents Hosni Mubarak and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
Later, there were attempts to settle some of these issues. Perhaps the most prominent of these in Egypt was the illegal profit-making authority’s announcement of reconciliation with late businessman Hussein Salem. The agreement was concluded with Salem in exchange for ceding 75% of his wealth to the state, estimated at more than five billion Egyptian pounds.
In Tunisia, the late President Beji Caid Essebsi announced in 2015 a national reconciliation project on issues of financial corruption and misuse of public money, for the Tunisian parliament to ratify the law in 2017.
Returning to the case of Rami Makhlouf, the Syrian businessman is one of the main supporters of the Assad regime, which has forced the United States and the European Union to impose sanctions on him. According to press reports, Makhlouf controls certain sectors, especially telecommunications and electricity, “and there are areas where no one can work without going through it,” as described by those reports.
However, at the end of last year, the Syrian government began issuing a series of decisions to seize Makhlouf and his wife’s money on charges of “tax evasion and the acquisition of illegal profits during the war that has been going on since 2011.” .
The case of the Syrian businessman is not the only example of accusations of businessmen monopolizing certain economic sectors in the Arab world. During the period of Hosni Mubarak’s rule in Egypt, the businessman and member of the policy committee of the then ruling National Party Ahmed Ezz, has managed to control more than fifty percent of the industrial market in Egypt. Ezz has always faced accusations of monopoly, until the January 2011 revolution brought him through the Public Funds prosecution on charges of “committing monopolistic practices in violation of the law”.
Mostafa Kamel El-Sayed, professor of political science at the University of Cairo, saw Ahmed Ezz’s case as’ an example of the businessman’s attempt to use his relationship with the government to strengthen his position and a monopoly position. seek in a way that does not serve. society. “Al-Sayed warns against this model because it leads to an increase in the general sense of corruption of big business, as it suggests the danger of such a relationship between the owners of power and wealth.
Meanwhile, Saeed al-Atrash believes that independent business associations and organizations, which are free from government interference, are evidence of the health of the economic climate in the country. He says these associations play a key role in ensuring that they do not work for a specific party. In addition, it seeks to enact laws that prevent the emergence of monopolistic practices. Al-Atrash points out that if monopolistic models appear in any country, they are often outside these regulatory entities.
Is the owner of wealth a competitor to the ruler?
The relationship between men of power and money in the Arab world may reflect a mere agreement that benefits both parties, but in reality, these relationships may include a competition that requires caution!
Mustafa Kamel al-Sayed indicates that the state can embark on projects implemented by the private sector on his behalf, but the rulers in the Arab world “see the rich as a competitor for them, so either businessmen work with the government or the government imposes control on them and restricts their activities, ”as he put it.
The political economy specialist Khalid bin Rashid Al-Khater claims that the greater responsibility is borne by the ruler more than the businessman, saying: “The reality of the relations between the two parties appears only when disagreement arises, but the politician is the one for whom you find companies operating in different fields as they may exercise and trade at the same time on the basis of their authority. (DW)