The thing with men of the people is they're never content to actually live like the people. A few luxuries here and there is no big deal for your average despot, until he faces a coup--suddenly everybody cares about his house! Such is the case with Hosni Mubarak, who seems to have built his very own Versailles in the Sahara. Your humble aggregator is pretty sure that if she were a dictator, she'd merely require a nice-sized loft with a view and a dishwasher. But let's take a closer look at Mubarak for a second.
While a fifth of Egyptians live on less than $2 a day, Mubarak is worth somewhere between $40 billion and $75 billion, CNN's Tom Foreman estimates. Egyptian law fixes the president's income, and forbids any outside sources of money. Foreman reports that Mubarak's wealth likely comes from his time in the military--he probably had a hand in military contracts and kept up his contacts over the years. That said, peruse at these photos, and you might also give credence to some of the other theories as to how Mubarak got quite so rich--contracts don't really seem to explain this kind of opulence.
While his wealth grows in Swiss bank accounts, Mubarak lives in Egypt's sprawling Abdeen Palace, which, an Egyptian government website boasted before it was taken down, is "one of the most sumptuous palaces in the world in terms of its adornments, paintings, and large number of clocks scattered in the parlors and wings, most of which are decorated with pure gold." Have a look:
As Hunter Walker notes, ballroom guests wait in the Byzantine Auditorium, featuring Coptic, Byzantine and Islamic "adornments."
The presidential gifts museum features a room full of nifty guns given to Mubarak over the years--including some gold-plated AK-47s given to him by Saddam Hussein. "Great minds"?
[Photo credit: flyoverstate/ Flickr]
When he's looking to catch some salty sea air, Mubarak stays at the Ras al Tin palace in Alexandria. At night, he rests his head in a modest bedroom "distinguished with golden ornaments and silk covering the walls."
When Mubarak is ready to flee Cairo, he might fly to safety in Germany--perhaps aboard a classy Gulfstream financed by Uncle Sam. Wire readers will be proud to know they helped pay the $111,160,328 for his nine business jets.
Here's another source of Mubarak's wealth: In Egypt, the Guardian's Phillip Inman reports, law requires foreign start-ups to fork over a 20 percent stake to a local business partner, which "gives politicians and close allies in the military a source of huge profits with no initial outlay and little risk." His colleague Salwa Ismail explains:
Mubarak and the clique surrounding him have long treated Egypt as their fiefdom and its resources as spoils to be divided among them. Under sweeping privatisation policies, they appropriated profitable public enterprises and vast areas of state-owned lands. ... It is estimated that around a thousand families maintain control of vast areas of the economy. This business class sought to consolidate itself and protect its wealth through political office. The National Democratic party was their primary vehicle for doing so. ... The legitimate social and economic demands of the people were repressed and denied, and the regime used the police to control the population. ... Egypt was governed as a private estate.
Isn't this the sort of thing the IMF, which has recently given Egypt pretty good grades, might be worried about? At the Financial Times, John Dizard writes that the International Monetary Fund noticed none of this corruption. It visited for two weeks a year ago and reported that "sustained and wide-ranging reforms since 2004 had reduced fiscal, monetary and external vulnerabilities, and improved the investment climate. These bolstered the economy's durability, and provided breathing space for appropriate policy responses." Dizard argues that, "these aren't quibbles about minor inaccuracies, or arguable ideological differences. There were imminent, overwhelming problems that either evaded the IMF's attention, or that it chose not to report." Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism seconds that condemnation, writing,
People are hungry and can’t find work, and what does the IMF have in its toolkit? 'Public private partnerships'. In a country with crony capitalism, that’s a prescription for further looting and redistribution of wealth to the top. ... This little snippet illustrates the intellectual bankruptcy that is pervasive in elite organizations. They are so blinded by ideology that they seem unable to connect simple, observable datapoints.