Every society, and community for that matter, gets the kind of criminal it deserves. In the 1920s, the US got the likes of Bonnie and Clyde. In the 1950s, the U.S. got the mafia, the Italian immigrant criminality that was very hard to defeat. Some would argue that they were in fact not defeated, but just legalized their illegality with Las Vegas as a primary example.
In cities like Baltimore, where there is perverse unemployment, the criminality it has in the form of drug dealing, prostitution, and armed robbery reflects both the lack of education of the populace at large and the deep rooted poverty embedded in that community. The typology of criminality will change in cities like Baltimore, as education and employment opportunities improve, but until then its residents will be left having to fend for themselves as crime evolves around them along with the very dangerous criminal element that will promote it.
But, these cities can be transformed and New York is a good example. Growing up in New York in the 1970s, crime was prevalent virtually everywhere in the city. No go zones included Harlem if you were of the wrong ethnic profile, and now that has all changed. It wasn’t just the inflow of wealth, but investments in education and infrastructure that made a world of difference.
Interestingly Egyptian cities have not followed the standard patterns of criminality like those that thrive in cities like Baltimore. While Egypt is now dealing with a level of criminality it had not known in the 1970s, 1980s and most of the 1990s, criminality is also evolving in ways Egyptians have never seen before. In virtually every Egyptian city over the past three decades, you couldn’t get mugged, have your car stolen, and banks were not really guarded because Cairo wasn’t Chicago. The only way a bank could get robbed was if it was an inside job. Armed bank robberies was just something you saw in movies. Yet, Egyptian cities had higher rates of illiteracy than US cities by far, higher rates of unemployment, but virtually no violent crime.
While, sadly this has changed now, I always wondered why this was the case. Did human life matter more to Egyptians, was Egypt just a place where it was very difficult to get a gun? Or, maybe the poor were simply more accepting of their misery and unwilling, or simply unable to do much about it.
When it comes to crime, Middle Eastern societies have one thing that remains similar to their Western counterparts. In the Middle East, you are more likely to serve hard time for stealing ones wallet, than stealing from the community at large because we seem more inept in our ability to protect the public interest and the public assets that go with it. In the US today, one can do nothing but wonder why retired politicians are being given speaking fees in the millions of dollars from corporations they regulated during their tenure. A payoff? Maybe, but for the time being a legal one. Every society, let alone Egypt, seems to have their own system for rewarding their regulators, their loyal politicians, well after the fact.
Globally the blame for graft seems to diminish as the size of the embezzlement and its perpetuity increase. As the size of the purse that has been embezzled grows so does the willingness of some judicial systems to turn a blind eye. In these societies, it would then follow that in some instances a person who steals the contents of someone’s home may serve more prison time than someone who has defrauded the general public out of a huge sum of money.
And, in many Middle Eastern societies today the ultra-rich are ultra-shady. Constantly, I now meet people from back home, or see their names mentioned in the press in the West as legitimate businessmen who are far from being legitimate. Whether there now in the business of horse breeding, or talking openly in the media about the bribes they gave or never gave when they were in public office, they seem to have not only evaded justice, they seem to have reinvented themselves. In their new lines of business, they seem to now be above board, have lawyers to manage their corporations and investments, and mix well with the crowds of other similar characters that have emanated from countries like Nigeria, Eastern Europe, and Russia in particular.
If there are Middle Eastern, let alone Egyptian oligarchs, they have very serious difficulty looking the part. Whether wearing Dolce or Prada, they look out of step. At least the parents do, but their kids seem to fair better. Their kids are products of excellent boarding schools and top 10 universities, they speak several languages, and have multiple nationalities. Their friends are the ultra-rich kids they’ve met along the way, and they seem to have little concern for where the huge wealth of their parents came from.
And, of their parents, what can you say about them now? Malcolm X once said “To have once been a criminal is no disgrace. To remain a criminal is the disgrace”. Fair enough, I guess you could argue that in the context of certain countries in the Middle East that if you embezzled a few hundred million dollars and no one ever prosecuted you for it, why not turn away from criminality? If you got away with money laundering on top of it all, managed to place a good nest egg in Goldman Sachs, to buy some prime properties in New York, Paris and London, and to start a few businesses here and there, who cares about what you did ten or twenty years ago? If you’re feeling some guilt about your past, well you go to your home country and invest there too, maybe do some charity work and you redefine yourself from being a crook to a legitimate businessman looking out not just for his interest, but the general public’s as well.
One has to wonder though not just about the character of these embezzlers, but about their underlying personalities as well. Crooks are a dime a dozen, but good crooks, great crooks, at least from what I’ve seen seem to go on to bigger and better things. Especially the ones that were extremely flagrant, the ones whose stories every one of us knows, the ones that now operate in circles that involve movie stars, private planes, fast cars, and faster women. To me, I always wondered whether they were ever able to differentiate between right and wrong. And, for God’s sake, even psychopaths know the technical difference between right and wrong.
We can also be proud that Egypt hasn’t produced a shortage of such criminals. Even though, in the circles they operate now, they may be known as “shady”, but the people they interact with give them their legitimacy because of the amount of greenback they can put on the table.
And, yes, many Middle Eastern societies have failed in their duty to be moral societies, because they have not held the perpetrators of immeasurable graft responsible for the criminality they perpetrated. When a criminal is not held responsible for his crime, the consequences of letting certain people “free”, especially those criminals that plundered their home countries is that they will reinvent themselves, call themselves Americans, Brits, or Spaniards, and as some are doing today, send their kids back “home” as legitimate businessmen or women.
There is also the other staple of those that never left their home countries to begin with, so comfortable that they were above the law, or so secure in the knowledge that the acts they committed are long past being prosecutable, that they can begin to behave like legitimate businessmen today even though many wouldn’t even know how to spell the word commerce.
Our society too has difficulty interfacing with this criminality once it is redefined and legitimized. One of my good friends called to tell me that I was invited to his daughter’s wedding, and who was the groom I asked? In hearing it was the son of one of these businessmen, I couldn’t hold back, I just remember saying “why?” His answer was they had fallen in love, and why should the son have to suffer as a result of his father’s wrong doing. I said nothing else and the wedding was said to have cost in excess of $10 million with world renowned musicians brought in from all over the World. My invitation to the wedding was written in gold leaf, and while I make no judgment on any other person than myself, the one conclusion that I drew from this was that one bad apple can spoil the bunch.
I don’t know about you, but in particular I’m sick of reading articles about these people with Egyptian roots that are being presented for everything they’re not. It all seems to diminish those legitimate Egyptians who worked hard for everything they have. The people with a sense of honor that never flinched when their integrity was challenged. Because the message these trumped up “success stories” are sending to our kids is that crime does pay, or it seems to have for a whole bunch of people.