Hosni Mubarak’s first week out of power has yielded few concrete indications whether the former Egyptian dictator will face justice, a question I explored last weekend on Huffington Post. The media though is rife with speculation that Mubarak has fallen gravely ill, and is perhaps even in a coma in his residence in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik. An anonymous Saudi official told Reuters, “He is not dead but is not doing well at all and refuses to leave. Basically, he has given up and wants to die in Sharm.” Egypt’s ambassador to the United States said on Tuesday that Mubarak is “possibly in somewhat of bad health” but didn’t elaborate any further. It’s unclear just how much stock to place in these reports, although news on Thursday that recently-ousted Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali has suffered a stroke and slipped into a coma begs the question, what is it about losing political power that disposes former autocrats to immediate physical decay?
The situation is somewhat clearer on the financial front, where Swiss authorities have identified and frozen tens of millions of dollars in Swiss bank accounts belonging to Mubarak, his family and a few close associates. The Swiss government had announced almost immediately after Mubarak’s ouster its intention to go after Mubarak’s assets. The United States and Europe have moved more slowly, though the Treasury Department on Thursday advised American banks to monitor the movement of funds by former Egyptian government officials, and European foreign ministers are set to discuss the matter in the coming days.
Curiously, the Egyptian military—now in control of the government—has requested that international governments freeze the assets of four former ministers but not of Mubarak himself or his family. Three of those officials have also been ordered detained by the state prosecutor on suspicion of corruption. Opposition activists are now voicing concerns that the military will protect Mubarak, a former military commander. Already, the military’s avowed commitment to a democratic transition has been called into question on account of its rapid steps to secure its privileged economic standing in post-Mubarak Egypt and its alleged role in disappearances and torture during—and after—the popular upheaval that led to Mubarak’s resignation. As the euphoria surrounding the initial success of the revolution dies down, the military’s action, or lack thereof, on Mubarak’s finances could prove an important signal to the Egyptian people of whether or not they can trust the military to usher in the new democratic era they so courageously fought for.