Efforts by Egypt's military-backed government to clean the country not only of its political critics but also of businessmen with close ties to ousted President Hosni Mubarak extended into soccer this week with the arrest on corruption charges of Hassan Hamdi, the longstanding chairman of. Al Ahli's SC, Africa's most crowned and popular club.
The arrest of Mr. Hamdi, who has long denied charges of wrongdoing, were first levied against him during the reign of President Mohammed Morsi, the Muslim Brother toppled by the military last year. It came amid an apparent power vacuum in advance of presidential elections in which various institutions, including the security forces and the judiciary, are jockeying for position. A date for the registration of presidential candidates is expected to be announced this weekend.
That vacuum is a reflection of a backroom tug of war between the military and former business associates of the Mubarak regime that was toppled in a popular revolt in 2011. The military is seeking to prevent the re-emergence of neo-liberals close to Mr. Mubarak's jailed businessman-cum politician son Gamal who posed a threat to the armed forces' vast commercial interests.
Mr. Mubarak, his sons and their neo-liberal business associates, including steel magnate Ahmed Ezz, were among the first to be put on trial by the military regime that replaced the ousted president three years ago. A court announced this week that a retrial of Mr. Ezz and six others on charges of profiteering and squandering public funds would begin on April 12.
The military since the fall of Mr. Morsi has been selective in choosing which of the major Mubarak-era businessmen it was willing to rehabilitate. "The NDP neglected society. Their corruption is the reason people are still suffering. They will never come back and the Mubarak era will never come back. A new era is coming, "a senior military officer told the Guardian.
The vacuum has allowed independent judges in a rare disciplining this month of members of the security forces to convict police officers in two separate cases for the deaths of an icon of the revolt against Mr. Mubarak, Khaled Said, whose killing in 2010 became a protest rallying point, and 37 prisoners detained after the toppling of Mr. Morsi.
The relatively light ten-year sentences for two officers accused of killing Mr. Said and a police captain responsible for the death of the prisoners were magnified by the sentencing to death on Monday of 529 defendants for the slaying of a police officer, the largest group convicted to death by a court in recent memory.
The mass sentencing, by a judge who on Tuesday opened proceedings against 682 people including Mohammed Badie, the spiritual guide of the banned Muslim Brotherhood, appeared to have been sparked the judge's anger and reflect agreement among many in the judiciary with the government's stepped up repression in the last eight months.
More than a 1,000 people have been killed and 16,000 other incarcerated since the ousting of Mr. Morsi. The judiciary is believed to be keen to prevent a repeat of Mr. Morsi's efforts supported by demands by the revolutionaries who ousted Mr. Mubarak that their ranks be cleansed of supporters of the ancien regime.
Mr. Hamdi, a former soccer player and Al Ahli captain, has headed the club, whose supporters played a key role in toppling Mr. Mubarak and have clashed repeatedly in recent months with security forces, for 12 years. He was for much of that time also head of the advertising agency of Al Ahram, Egypt's influential state-owned newspaper. Al Ahram chairman Mamdouh al-Wali was banned from travel in February pending an investigation into possible corruption.
A judge banned Mr. Hamdi and several senior Al Ahram executives and editors from travel earlier this month. It was the second time Mr. Hamdi's movements were curtailed. The Illegal Gains Authority banned him from travel and froze his assets in 2012 after fans repeatedly stormed Al Ahli headquarters demanding his resignation. Mr. Hamdi was released from prison at the time on a bail of two million Egyptian pounds ($330,000). He was questioned before his release about the accumulation of his wealth estimated at 500 million pounds / $82 million).
Military police were reported months after Mr. Mubarak's fall in 2011 to have seized three boxes of documents that Mr. Hamdi and then Al Ahram editor-in-chief Osama Saraya had allegedly attempted to smuggle out of the editor's office. They were confronted by publishing house employees who suspected that the boxes contained documents that would prove the two men's involvement in corruption.
Mr, Hamdi was due to step down this month in advance of new club board elections after the government adopted a new law that limits the tenure of sports club board members. World soccer body FIFA, concerned about government interference in club elections in Egypt, said it was sending a mission to investigate.
The arrest of Mr. Hamdi coincided with efforts by Al Ahli and its Cairo arch rival Al Zamalek SC to persuade security forces to allow them to play this weekend two African championship matches in Cairo rather than in Gouna, a town 450 kilometers from the Egyptian capital. The interior ministry ordered the matches to be played in Gouna to prevent a repeat of clashes with militant soccer fans in and around stadia in recent months.
James M. Dorsey is a Senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University. He is also co-director of the University of Würzburg's Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog and a forthcoming book with the same title.