A former lawyer, police officer and auditor, Genena says he has access to documents that prove the army was involved in stirring bloody violence following the 2011 uprising, but President Sisi detained him ahead of general elections in March.
The arrest of Egypt’s ex-top auditor and anti-corruption campaigner Hisham Genena seems to be the latest move in President Abdel Fatah al Sisi’s efforts to eliminate his major critics and opponents in the run up to this year's general elections set to take place in March.
Genena, who recently announced he would be the running mate of ex-presidential hopeful and ex-military general Sami Anan, finds himself in military detention after he was arrested from his home on February 13, according to a statement from his lawyers.
Genena’s arrest is believed to be linked to recent reports in the US-based Huffington Post that he has access to top-secret documents that allegedly prove the army’s role in causing social unrest following the 2011 uprising against former president Hosni Mubarak.
Genena threatened to release these documents if Anan, who is currently also under arrest, is subjected to bad treatment or torture during his detention.
Earlier this year, Genena and Anan launched a campaign criticising the current presidency and vowed to eliminate corruption from Egypt’s armed forces and civil institutions. Genena was also badly injured on January 27 this year when he was attacked by a group of men near his home in what some have deemed a politically motivated assault.
While Anan’s emergence as an anti-corruption crusader is new, Genena’s is not. So who is Hisham Genena? And why is he significant in Egyptian politics?
Genena became a household name in Egypt when controversy erupted in 2016 after President Sisi issued a decision to detain and fire him from his position as head of the Accountability State Authority (ASA), the country’s central auditing agency, on charges of publicising false news and claims, based on the statement he made about corruption costs in state institutions reaching 600 billion Egyptian pounds over four years. At the time this figure would have equalled $68 billion, but since the currency flotation in the same year this figure is closer to $35 billion now.
Genena himself had only held the position since 2012. He was previously a police officer, but served as a senior judge for 34 years after his time in the police force.
In 2016, following his arrest and subsequent release after being handed a one-year suspended prison sentence, Genena told local reporters that the figure he had initially quoted only accounted for the years of 2012-2015. In an interview at the time, Genena said, “The number is correct, and it constitutes only a simple part of the corruption in state sectors and ministries during four years marked by the beginning of 2012 until the end of 2015. The real numbers are horrifying as they far exceed LE600 billion. We have documents that confirm everything we announced. The technical committee of the ASA made very accurate calculations and analyses of the corruption costs in every ministry and sector. This is very difficult for anyone to do, even for professors at universities, as it requires accumulated experience that only comes through practice.”
Sisi’s move to arrest and detain Genena in 2016 came after a presidential decree in 2015 that granted him the right to dismiss heads and members of regulatory organisations and independent bodies, despite such organisations historically being protected by the constitution.
At the time, Genena was accused by pro-government and state-owned news outlets of being an Islamist because he was appointed by Sisi’s predecessor, Mohamed Morsi. Despite these claims, there has been no evidence to suggest Genena was speaking on behalf of any political agenda.
The infamous corruption report
The report which landed Genena in prison in 2016 consisted of 350 pages. It is a compilation of several CAA reports prepared between 2012 and 2015 that evaluated the performance of state institutions across a number of sectors. These reports were collected in order to calculate the cost of corruption resulting from squandering and damaging public funds.
Almost half of the report was devoted to discussing the cost of corruption in economic and service authorities, with a special focus on the sectors dealing with state-owned land. Particular attention is paid to the New Urban Communities Authority, the Ministry of Housing and the General Authority for Reconstruction Projects and Agricultural Development.
At the time, many criticised the report for not laying out a clear methodology that led it to the conclusive figure of LE600 billion. Many of those who criticised the report said bad practices mean corruption in Egypt could in fact be much more than the stated figure.
Recent arrest and Anan affiliation
Almost two years on from his initial arrest and Genena finds himself again behind bars, this time though, it is being treated as a political witch hunt aimed at crushing any opposition that could threaten Sisi’s elections next year.
Genena has found himself part of this witch hunt because of his decision to align himself with Sami Anan earlier this year. Both men sought to create an internal opposition movement to challenge Sisi’s presidency. Anan surrounded himself by Genena, an anti-corruption campaigner, and Hazem Hosny, prominent pro-democracy academic known for his sharp criticism of Sisi’s rule.
The arrest came a day after the military said it would take action to safeguard its “honour and dignity” after Genena claimed in a television interview that former military chief of staff Sami Anan was in possession of documents incriminating the country’s “leadership.”
Genena and Anan’s attempts to stand against Sisi highlighted internal divisions within Egypt’s security services: the police, the homeland security agency, the army, military intelligence, and the general intelligence service.
For many, the removal of other opponents who said they would run against Sisi in the upcoming elections was a way for Egypt’s strongman to continue his crackdown on any sort of dissent, which he continues to narrate as a threat to Egypt’s security.
Anan’s arrest on the other hand is being speculated domestically to be part of a much larger power struggle within the army and the interior ministry between Mubarak-loyalists and Sisi-backers. Considering the opaque nature in which Egypt’s security services operate, it is difficult to fully understand the internal dynamics that made Anan such a threat to the current presidency.
What is clear though, is a series of abrupt reshuffles that recently took place within these institutions and the strange incident of yet another high-ranking Mubarak-era military official, Ahmed Shafik, announcing his intention to run for president and then retreating shortly after.
Before his arrest and after Anan’s detention, Genena was considered to be the loudest remaining opposition voice in Egypt. Activists and rights groups had hailed him as a champion of anti-corruption in Egypt.
His arrest though, is being received domestically as the final nail in the coffin that carries the faded hopes of restoring Egyptian democracy.