The first week of Ramadan in Egypt has been eventful – but not only on the small screen where over 25 TV dramas vie for viewers’ attention around the clock.
Construction magnate Hisham Talaat Moustafa’s shocking arrest has hammered home Mark Twain’s eternal nugget of wisdom: Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn’t.
The real-life drama of the Suzanne Tamim case, weaving power, money, celebrity and a murder mystery all in one big scandal has stolen the limelight from our favorite actors, replacing them with real people in all the lead roles. This year iftar tables and sohour dens are all about whodunit, how and why.
Did Moustafa really pay former state security officer Mohsen El-Sokkari $2 million to brutally murder Lebanese pop singer Tamim at her apartment on the 22nd floor of the Jumeirah Beach Resort in Dubai on July 28? If so, why? And again if so, why didn’t he make it look like suicide?
Besides, is it possible that all of a sudden those with money and power are no longer above the law? Can those as close to the powers that be as Moustafa was – being a member of the ruling National Democratic Party’s supreme policies council and deputy chairman of the Shoura Council’s economic committee – actually be thrown in the dock like the rest of us?
The case is just beginning and as the media, we have no right to pass judgment so soon. The presumption of innocence is a universal human right.
Defendants are innocent until proven guilty and the burden of proof is on the prosecution whose role is to collect enough compelling evidence to prove that the accused is guilty.
What is jaw-dropping about this particular case, however, is the speed with which the prosecution took action in a system where the long arm of the law traditionally only grabs the weak, the dispossessed and the opposition.
Within a little over one month since rumors of his connection with the murder began to circulate, one of the most powerful men in the country is stripped of parliamentary immunity and escorted to non-other than Tora Prison, the reserve of Egypt’s high-profile detainees and political persona non grata.
Naturally there must be more to the strange plot than meets the eye.
Columnists on all sides of the political spectrum have been busy pontificating on the issue, with some saying that there was too much pressure from Dubai to allow the case to be buried; others theorizing that Moustafa has fallen victim to an elaborate framing conspiracy by his arch-nemesis steel magnate Ahmed Ezz.
Others have compared Moustafa’s case with that of the owner of the doomed Al Salam 98 ferry Mamdouh Ismail who had caused the death of over 1,000 poor Egyptians. Ismail was free for two months before any charges were leveled against him – after he fled the country. Then following two whole years of litigation he was found not guilty.
But that was two years ago when things were very different in Egypt. One would like to think that the regime has finally woken up to the fact that it has been digging its own grave through harboring corruption to protect its own interests and reinforce its stranglehold on the country. But this would be the fairytale, not the horror story we live in.
Today, a more potent media and civil society spurred by irrepressible communication technology as well as the international scrutiny (and in turn pressure) that is part and parcel of joining the global economy, has chipped away at the regime’s indiscriminate control over all facets of public life in Egypt.
The regime is certainly more aware of its need to exude an image of accountability today than it ever used to be, but here’s the rub: some NDP voices are now using Moustafa’s indictment as evidence that the ruling party knows no cronyism, in a bid to falsely sanitize an intrinsically corrupt cartel of businessmen and politicians.
According to AlAhram Weekly, Aliedin Hilal, NDP secretary for media affairs (and an extra in this unfolding TV series) told Orbit satellite channel that this case warrants a review of the relationship between big business and government. All of a sudden the NDP is lamenting the “lack of a legal framework regulating the relationship between wealth and power which, as Hilal is quoted as saying, “opens the door wide for corruption, conflicts of interest and cronyism.
It would be naïve to think that the sudden change of heart is true on any level, especially that we’ve only just watched the very first episode of this sizzling Ramadan drama.
And judging by previous cases, there’s always a sting in the tail, so stay tuned. Rania Al Malky is the Chief Editor of Daily News Egypt.