CAIRO - Seizing State-owned lands were rife in the Mubarak regime, say opponents of the ousted regime. Several former ministers, businessmen and other allies of the regime acquired vast areas of land in wonderful locations for a pittance.
Dozens of huge plots of land were obtained by a certain class of people, who used their purchases commercially, mostly for constructing luxury housing.
Corruption is the key word here; land was sold very cheaply or even given for free to only a few people who soon sold it for an enormous profit. Plots of land could often be left for a few months, then flogged for a 'tremendous' price.
Getting one's hands on as many vast plots of land as possible was the main concern of these people, many of whom are now behind bars, paying for their corruption.
The defunct regime helped a handful of its favourites to create their comfy resorts and villas at a time when the majority of Egyptians were suffering poverty, unemployment and misery.
These 'symbols of corruption' lived in spacious palaces and lush resorts at the expense of millions of citizens. Thanks to the January 25 revolution, the list of the corrupt elite is gradually unfolding.
A striking example is that of Mahmoud el-Gammal father-in-law of Gamal Mubarak, elder son of the toppled president who bought, or rather was 'awarded', 700 feddans on the Cairo-Alexandria Desert Road. He was meant to reclaim 93 per cent of the total area and build on the remaining 7 per cent.
But the man, relying on the influence of his in-laws, turned the whole area into resorts. In 2005, El-Reef el-Orobi (European Countryside) for Agricultural Development bought 2,005 feddans (acres) for LE5,000 (about $840) per acre. The company later sold part of the plot for LE150,000 an acre.
Again the new owner, an affiliate of the famous Palm Hills
company involved in wide-scale corruption, violated the conditions of the original contract with the State and used the area it bought for real estate investment, according to the daily Al-Ahrar.
El-Suleimaniya, a luxury compound on the Cairo-Alexandria Desert Road is another example of using large areas of land allocated by the State for reclamation for the construction of villas and houses instead.
Forget the poor and all the talk about agricultural development!
There were also shocking land steals on Egypt's North Coast, to the delight of the corrupt, ruling elite.
About 7 million square
metres of land in el-Alamein, in the northwest of the country, was illegally sold to some businessmen members of the Palm Hills
They included el-Gammal, former Minister of Housing Ahmed el-Maghrabi (currently in prison) and a number of business tycoons. Al-Ahrar reported that the State lost up to LE20 billion in the deal.
In the eastern part of the country, namely Sinai, former Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif insisted on selling 30 million square metres to Dubai property developer Damac, for only $1 a square metre, even though the area has potential oil reserves and is unsuitable for tourist projects.
According to Al-Ahrar, Damac Chairman and owner, Hussein Sajwani, said that he would launch projects worth $120 billion, which encouraged the Government to offer him more plots of land in New Cairo and on the North Coast. But the UAE business tycoon has done nothing.
Recently, Damac said it had filed an international arbitration case against Egypt over a land dispute and the conviction of Sajwani.
A Cairo sentenced Sajwani, in absentia, to jail and ordered him to pay a $40.5 million fine in connection with his 2006 purchase of land in Egypt's Red Sea resort of Gamsha Bay, near Hurghada.
Meanwhile, el-Maghrabi gave 25 million square metres in the Red Sea Governorate for only $1 per square metre to Orascom Hotels and Develpment.
Al-Ahrar's report said such land acquisition began in the mid-1990s, when businessman Ahmed Bahgat obtained 600 feddans in the new 6th October City.
Later, former Minister of Housing Mohamed Ibrahim Soliman was very generous with Bahgat, who soon owned about 2,000 feddans of land there.
In 2002, the Egypt Kuwait Holding Company (EKH) was given 26,000 feddans in the desert near el-Ayyat, about 30 miles south of Cairo, for the purpose of reclamation, for LE50 per feddan (acre).
Later, the company sold the land to Kuwaiti individuals and firms for real estate purposes, making enormous profits. Finally, the contract was cancelled since the EKH violated it because it stipulated the land be used for reclamation purposes.