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Egypt’s former leader denies abuse of power

CAIRO (AP) ― In the first remarks since his dramatic ouster, former President Hosni Mubarak denied that he used his position to amass wealth and property during three decades in power, and issued an emotional defense of his legacy.

The statement, broadcast Sunday at the end of a turbulent weekend that saw a deadly military crackdown on protesters, only stoked more public anger in the midst of Egypt’s turbulent transition to a more democratic system.

In the prerecorded audiotape, the 82-year-old Mubarak spoke with a tone of authority more in keeping with his past power than his current situation. He said he had agreed to “authorize” an investigation of his finances, and promised to sue all those who smeared his reputation.

As the ruling military council comes under increasing public pressure for its management of the post-Mubarak transition, the ex-president’s first words were a reminder that he still has a grip on the country’s mood.

Shortly after the speech was aired, Egypt’s prosecutor general announced he had issued orders summoning the ex-president and his two sons for questioning on the embezzlement allegations. The scope of the investigation was also widened to include the crackdown on protesters that killed an estimated 300 people.

The move could help ease public anger now largely directed at the military.

The pan-Arab news channel Al-Arabiya, which broadcast the speech, said it was recorded Saturday, a day after demonstrators gathered in huge numbers in Cairo’s Tahrir Square to demand that the military council that took over from Mubarak launch an investigation into his wealth.

The speech seemed to be as much about preserving his dignity as about denying the accusations against him.

“I was hurt very much, and I am still hurting ― my family and I ― from the unjust campaigns against us and false allegations that aim to smear my reputation, my integrity, my (political) stances and my military history,” Mubarak said.

The speech came as hundreds of protesters remain barricaded in Tahrir square, the epicenter of the uprising that forced Mubarak from office on Feb. 11 after 18 days of mass demonstrations.

Friday’s protest by tens of thousands was the biggest since Mubarak’s ouster. Despite constitutional amendments to allow free elections and other steps toward a freer political scene, many in the anti-Mubarak movement are skeptical of the military’s pledges to meet all demands.

Trust between the military and the reform movement suffered a serious setback when soldiers stormed their protest camp in the pre-dawn hours Saturday, killing at least one person and injuring 71 others.

That increased calls for the resignation of the head of the military council running the country, Defense Minister Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, a Mubarak appointee. It also spurred protesters to retake Tahrir Square, shutting down traffic in the heart of the city.

By midnight Sunday, several hundred protesters remained barricaded there behind barbed wire, burned-out troop carriers and makeshift checkpoints they set up to keep out vehicle traffic and search people for weapons. There was no sign of the military.

Protester Ahmed Abu el-Nasr, a 26-year-old medical equipment salesman, said Mubarak’s summoning for questioning was a gesture that came too late and one that suggested the military council was stalling on allowing a prosecution.

He said the protesters want to see Mubarak back in Cairo and put on trial. They also want an investigation into the military’s use of violence against them Saturday.
Hosni Mubarak
Hosni Mubarak

“We left the square many times, and we haven’t moved a step forward,” el-Nasr said. “The council is operating drip by drip. We have to maintain the pressure.”

Since his ouster, Mubarak and his family have been under house arrest at a presidential palace in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, their assets frozen. But Mubarak has not been charged.

In his speech, the former president said he only possessed a single account in an Egyptian bank and only held property in Egypt.

He said he would agree in writing, if requested, to allow the prosecutor-general to contact other countries to investigate whether he or his wife, Suzanne, owned any accounts or property abroad.

He said the move was to “prove to the people that their former president only owns domestically, according to previous financial disclosure.”

Many were not impressed.

“It was a condescending statement, and the way it was worded was provocative,” said Nasser Abdel-Hamid, a member of a youth coalition that led the 18-day protest.

Wael Abdel-Fattah, a columnist and a founder of a group demanding a clear course for transitional justice in Egypt, said Mubarak’s speech amounted to a “challenge” to the country’s military rulers, who had clearly disagreed on how to treat their former boss.

“He didn’t only steal the wealth but he is a repressive leader that killed his people,” Abdel-Fattah said.

Essam El-Erian, a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood, said Mubarak still believes he is above accountability.

“Trying Mubarak is not only about bringing back the money. It also sets a precedent here that every ruler and president that comes after will know” he will face prosecution for any violations, El-Erian said.

A few top officials are now in jail or undergoing interrogation.

They have had their assets frozen and are forbidden from leaving the country. The country’s former prime minister was jailed Sunday on corruption charges.

Ahmed Sayyed el-Naggar, an economic analyst with Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic studies, said investigating Mubarak’s personal wealth is a difficult job because it is easy to hide assets.

Amr Bassiouny, a 25-year old market research manager, echoed the sentiment and criticized the military council for being so slow in going after Mubarak. “This incriminates the council on a much larger level,” he said.

Mubarak’s official salary as president, set by law under the constitution, was about $3,400. He and his family rarely flaunted whatever wealth they had, though Mubarak’s son, Gamal, was the listed owner of a town house in London’s exclusive Knightsbridge district, where he was said to have lived while working as an investment banker in the early 1990s.

Many in Egypt have seized on the town house as a symbol of opulence just as foreign governments begin to either enact, or consider imposing freezes on the Mubarak regime’s assets.