I believe Hesham Geneina, director of the Central Auditing Agency (CAA), is fighting on several fronts and dimensions. Under ousted president Hosni Mubarak, he was a key figure in the independent judiciary movement, and under deposed president Mohamed Morsi he was appointed CAA director by presidential decree.
Because of the first, he is subject to fierce attacks by anti-revolution forces who want to sabotage and punish anyone who paved the way for the January 25 Revolution, including the independent judiciary movement and its leaders.
For the second, he is a target for hysterical instigation to take revenge on Muslim Brotherhood rule. The hysteria engulfs anyone, right or wrong, who held an official post under Morsi’s reign. Ironically, the initiators and leaders of this hysteria are at the forefront of tacky hypocrisy to curry favour with Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, but ignore that El-Sisi himself was appointed by Morsi as minister of defence.
Historians will have the final word on these two aspects once the storm calms down and history takes its course of championing revolutions against assaults on judicial independence, manipulating the prosecution and the judiciary to settle political scores, and outrageous election fraud for many decades.
The more important and critical aspect of Geneina’s battle is opening files on corruption and corruptors, to combat a legacy of institutionalised and systematic corruption that infected Egypt under President Anwar El-Sadat and infested the country under Mubarak.
Had Geneina wanted to stay safe and keep his post at the helm of a vital auditing agency in the country, he would have remained silent and weathered the storm with minimum losses. But he chose to go public and pursue more cases of corruption and violations implicating powerful figures, interests and parties within the state, including “sovereign institutions.”
In less than one week he spoke to an Egyptian newspaper which published his interview over three days, he held a news conference at CAA headquarters, and also met reporters individually. I met him with three other reporters in his office on 13 February for one hour.
My overall impression is that the man I saw as a cautious silent type during the judiciary crisis in the Mubarak years of 2005-2006 has opened up and wants to speak honestly. More importantly, he is confident in his position and intends to fight to the end, not because it is a personal battle, about Geneina the judge and symbol of the fight for judicial independence who was appointed by Morsi, but the battle of the CAA in combating corruption.
He understands the uphill struggle that lays ahead, and that “corruption is systematic and protects its kind,” as Geneina told us, the danger being auditing agencies themselves becoming corrupt and the emergence of clusters of corruption beneficiaries who reach from inside these agencies to the outside. This could explain why in the past few days Geneina has highlighted the threat of corruption in media institutions, including state-owned ones.
The CAA formed six committees to investigate corruption at a national journalism institution that involves former senior administrators, including a famous athlete. For Geneina, the battle is not a walk in the park; I believe he is making a clear distinction between organised clusters of corruption within institutions, agencies and society, on the one hand, and the institutions themselves, on the other. He assured us he has “no intention to clash with state institutions,” and was confident senior figures who lead key state institutions would cooperate with him.
In the next few days and weeks, we will find out whether Geneina’s is correct in making a distinction between clusters of systematic corruption within certain institutions and the institutions themselves. What is certain is that Geneina’s battle in its third and most important dimension is very complicated. At the heart of it is a battle to overhaul the CAA itself, expand its mandate, improve the quality of inspectors and auditors, ensure their independence, as well as the transparency of CAA reports, acting on these reports, and allowing the CAA to take legal action against the violators it uncovers.
There are many draft laws on the CAA that are ready, and the issue of transparency, mentioned in the new constitution, also needs legislation for free access to information.
The prospects of Geneina’s battle in its third dimension is a matter of doing battle with organised interest groups within state institutions and agencies that extend to the business sector, and cronyism inherited from the Sadat and Mubarak eras. The power and influence of these groups is apparent in campaigns in newspapers and private television channels against Geneina and CAA, based on the two facts mentioned at the beginning of this article.
No doubt, Geneina’s battle against corruption is more critical, threatening and central, but perhaps time was too short in our meeting amid this tempest to ask the CAA director about his ambiguous relationship now with “Auditors Against Corruption.” The movement played a key role in uncovering the dilemma of the CAA and its vital role after the overthrow of Mubarak.