Likewise, both of Mubarak's sons and their families left for London in their private jets. The head of the Cairo International Airport also announced that 19 private jets owned by the richest families in the country left for Dubai on Saturday. One of these corrupt billionaires was Hussein Salem, a former intelligence officer and a close confidant of the president. Dubai airport officials declared that they seized over $300 million in cash from him.
Salem was the head of a private energy company that teamed up with an Israeli conglomerate to secure a long-term contract to sell natural gas to Israel. In June 2008 Les Afriques reported that Egypt was subsidizing Israel with hundreds of millions of dollars every year in energy purchase. By January 2010, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz exposed the secret and reported that Israel was in fact receiving natural gas from Egypt at a 70 per cent discount. The scandal was swept aside by the former Egyptian prime minister who refused to divulge to the parliament the terms of the contract. Subsequently when the government was sued, a judge ruled against it and invalidated the contract, which the government totally ignored.
Looking the other way: Human Rights but not for all
The Mubarak regime had one of the worst human rights records in the world. In June 2010, Human Rights Watch reported that "the Egyptian Government continued to suppress political dissent " dispersing demonstrations; harassing rights activists; and detaining journalists, bloggers, and Muslim Brotherhood members."
Even the U.S. State Department 2008 Human Rights Report to Congress stated that "The (Egyptian) government's respect for human rights remained poor, and serious abuses continued in many areas." It continued, "The government limited citizens' right to change their government and continued a state of emergency that has been in place almost continuously since 1967. Security forces used unwarranted lethal force and tortured and abused prisoners and detainees, in most cases with impunity."
It concluded, "Security forces arbitrarily arrested and detained individuals, in some cases for political purposes, and kept them in prolonged pretrial detention. The executive branch placed limits on and pressured the judiciary. The government's respect for freedoms of press, association, and religion declined during the year, and the government continued to restrict other civil liberties, particularly freedom of speech, including Internet freedom, and freedom of assembly, including restrictions on nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Government corruption and lack of transparency persisted."
But despite this massive indictment of the Egyptian regime by the U.S. government, the U.S. continued to support the Mubarak regime, providing it with almost $2-billion annually, the second largest foreign aid recipient after Israel. According to the Congressional Research Report submitted to Congress in September 2009, the U.S. had subsidized the Egyptian regime with over $64-billion since it signed the peace treaty with Israel in 1979, including $40-billion in military hardware and security gear.
It also rewarded the regime with $7-billion debt relief in April 1991 for its support of the Gulf war earlier that year. Furthermore, it intervened with the Paris club to forgive half of Egypt's $20-billion debt to Western governments. In short, the U.S. and other Western governments favored establishing a strategic relationship with Mubarak, because of the peace treaty with Israel, overlooking the nature of the regime's corruption and repression.
After 9/11, the Mubarak regime played a major role in aiding and abetting the U.S. counterterrorism policy on rendition and torture. In 2005, the BBC reported that both the United States and the United Kingdom sent terrorist suspects to Egypt for detention. In that report, Egypt's prime minister acknowledged that since 2001, the U.S. had transferred some 60-70 detainees to Egypt as part of the "war on terror." According to journalist Jane Mayer's investigative book "The Dark Side," the new Vice President, Suleiman, was the coordinator of the CIA's extraordinary rendition program during the Bush era. [See Stephen Soldz's account of Suleiman's role on CounterPunch, January 31.]
Despite George Bush's grandiose rhetoric on democracy and freedom, Bush welcomed Mubarak, calling him a "good friend" and explaining that he looked forward to "his wise counsel," when the Egyptian president visited Bush in his Crawford ranch in April 2004. With Mubarak standing next to him Bush said, "Our nations have a relationship that is strong and warm. Egypt is a strategic partner of the United States." He then thanked Mubarak's efforts on rendition and torture when he said, "I'm grateful for President Mubarak's support in the global war against terror."
In fact, the Bush administration subsequently received Jamal Mubarak at the highest levels of government in an attempt to groom him to succeed his father. In May 2006, the Washington Post reported that, "It was unusual for a private foreign citizen with no official portfolio to receive so much high-level attention." The younger Mubarak met with Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley, during his "private visit" to the U.S. While he was at the White House the former President stopped by to "welcome him."
The sacred equation: Egyptian Dictatorship equals Secure Israel
The strategic relationship between Egypt and the U.S. was bipartisan. When President Barak Obama was asked by the BBC during his celebrated visit to Egypt in June 2009, whether he regarded President Mubarak as an authoritarian ruler, Obama answered with an emphatic "No." Then he spelled out the strategic value of Mubarak when he said, "He has been a stalwart ally in many respects to the United States. He has sustained peace with Israel which is a very difficult thing to do in that region."
This perceived security for Israel was key in the West's continued support of the Egyptian regime. When Vice President Joe Biden was asked to comment about the turmoil in Egypt by Jim Lehrer of PBS, he shamelessly declared on January 27, that Mubarak was not a dictator. Presenting the Israeli viewpoint, Biden said, "Look, Mubarak has been an ally of ours in a number of things and he's been very responsible on -- relative to geopolitical interests in the region: Middle East peace efforts, the actions Egypt has taken relative to normalizing the relationship with Israel. I would not refer to him as a dictator."
On the same day, while Egypt's security forces were killing, beating and gassing the Egyptian people by the thousands, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered this flimsy reaction: "Our assessment is that the Egyptian government is stable and is looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people."
Likewise, when White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was asked whether the White House believed the Egyptian government was stable, he replied without hesitation: "Yes." When he was next asked whether the U.S. still supports Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, he reiterated that Egypt remains "a strong ally."