CAIRO – Egyptian authorities on Thursday arrested the country's former information minister and the chairman of state TV and radio on corruption allegations, the latest moves by the country's ruling military against senior officials of Hosni Mubarak's ousted regime, security officials said.
In south Cairo, an angry crowd of some 500 people torched two police cars and beat up a young officer who shot a minibus driver in the heat of an argument over the right of way. The incident highlights the tension between police and Egyptians, many of whom are still bristling over years of police brutality and corruption.
Thursday's arrests of Anas al-Fiqqi, the ex-information minister, and Osama el-Sheikh, the state TV boss, were widely expected. Al-Fiqqi was placed under house arrest earlier this month and el-Sheikh was banned from traveling abroad Wednesday, steps that often precede a criminal investigation or a trial.
Al-Fiqqi was a confidante of Mubarak and his powerful, one-time heir apparent son Gamal. Under his and el-Sheikh's stewardship, state TV persistently discredited the young organizers of the 18-day uprising that forced Mubarak to hand power to the military after nearly 30 years of authoritarian rule.
Authorities also referred to trial two former cabinet ministers and a one-time top official of Mubarak's political party. They'll face corruption charges, the security officials said.
Egypt's media have been buzzing with reports of spectacular corruption by members of Mubarak's regime as well as businessmen linked to his government. Authorities are inviting Egyptians to come forward with evidence of alleged corruption by the toppled regime, pledging not to reveal their identities.
Mubarak himself has been swept up by the anti-graft campaign that has followed his stunning ouster. Earlier this week, authorities froze his assets abroad, as well as those of his wife, two sons and their wives.
Also Thursday, Interior Minister Mahmoud Wagdy ordered the release of 189 prisoners — 159 of them political — the official Middle East News Agency said. MENA said security agencies are reviewing the detainees case files before the prisoners can be released.
The security officials said the al-Fiqqi investigation looked into the fate of 2 million pounds (about $340,000) he collected in donations to support a film festival in Cairo. Al-Fiqqi never presented documents explaining how he spent the money, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
The officials said el-Sheikh allegedly used state money to privately produce TV programs.
The arrest of the two followed Wednesday's imposition of a travel ban on a former prime minister — Atef Obeid, who served from 1999 to 2004 — and longtime former culture minister Farouq Hosni. The ban on leaving the country was also slapped on nine businessmen and el-Sheikh.
Also Thursday, authorities referred ex-Housing Minister Ahmed Maghrabi and prominent ruling party leader Ahmed Ezz to trial along with Rashid Mohammed Rashid, a former trade and commerce minister. Also going to trial are the ex-chairman of a media group that publishes a state newspaper and three businessmen.
The officials said the six are facing charges of illegally amassing wealth and squandering state funds. No trial date has been set.
They are among some two dozen ex-ministers and business leaders who are under investigation. The protesters who ousted Mubarak often mentioned corruption as a key motive behind their movement.
While Egypt's authorities appear to be going after former regime officials — as protesters have demanded — tensions remain between citizens and a police force still regularly maligned as corrupt and brutal.
The clashes Thursday took place Thursday in the upscale Cairo neighborhood of Maadi.
Witnesses and a security official said the police officer pulled his gun and shot the minibus driver during a heated argument over the right of way. A crowd of some 500 people descended on the officer, beating him and torching his car. When a second police car came to disperse the crowd, the crowd fought off those officers and set their car alight.
The protesters then tried to march on south Cairo's main police station, but the army blocked their path and deployed tanks to a nearby station to protect it.
The minibus driver was hospitalized in critical condition and authorities suspended the officer pending the completion of an investigation into the incident.