Mubarak moves against uttat suman (fat cats)
On the Giza plateau near the Great Pyramids of Cheops, Chephren, and Mycerinus, there is a curious establishment known as Sahara City. A cross between a Polynesian village and a Bedouin tent, Sahara City regales its guests with belly dancers and whirling dervishes, dancing camels and Ethiopian acrobats. Its guests - foreign businessmen, Gulf Arabs, and a sprinkling of wealthy Egyptians - spend more in one evening than most Egyptians earn in a year.
But this month a bulldozer will flatten Sahara City and more than 300 chalets on the plateau, including the late President Sadat's Pyramids resthouse, to protect the ''integrity'' of the Pyramids area, according to the government.
The act also will fulfill President Hosni Mubarak's pledge that ''Egypt is for all its sons and not for the privileged minority or the chosen elite or a class dictatorship.''
It is part of Mubarak's widely publicized fight against corruption, a battle that is one of the centerpieces of his regime. In order to rally popular support behind him in the aftermath of Sadat's assassination, the new President must offer the mass of improverished Egyptians fresh signs of hope, veteran analysts say.
Corruption has been a major issue here since President Sadat's economic open door policy, called the ''infitah,'' brought a flood of expensive consumer items into the country in the mid-1970s. The policy helped to create an entrepreneurial class with incomes vastly larger than the small salaries of middle-class Egyptians in the public sector. The public sector still accounts for 80 percent of the economic activity in Egypt.
Rumors of corruption - which no one dared to verify - surrounded President Sadat's family during his years in office. Sadat's wife, Jihan, and his children and close relations were said to be involved in high-profit business ventures that had come in under the ''infitah.'' The President's 20 resthouses around the country became a symbol of the Sadats' opulent life style.
Ordinary Egyptians believed many government ministers also were using their posts for private gain.
The rumors were never dispelled by a government staffed with presidential appointees, a government that never ran for reelection. The aura of corruption contributed to the alienation of the population, especially young people, from government.
The new stratum of infitah wealthy, it was said, was able to get anything it wants from anyone, with almost no oversight from the poor law-enforcement officials it bribed.
A vocabulary of corruption arose. ''Kosa'' (literally, zucchini squash) and ''wusta'' connote favoritism or nepotism. ''Rashwa'' (bribery) has adopted new classifications: there is ''baku,'' a packet of (STR)1,000 Egyptian, and ''arnab'' (literally, rabbit) a packet of (STR)1 million. A new proverb, ''pay a baku and get an arnab'' has circulated in Egypt in recent years.
The new entrepreneurs are called ''uttat suman,'' which means, literally, ''fat cats.'' Officials who are particularly despised are called ''gazma'' (shoes) because people can walk all over them.
The bulldozing of the Pyramids chalets this month was the Mubarak government's opening shot in its battle on corruption.
The Egyptian media are turning legal proceedings against former member of parliament Rashad Osman into a major show trial to show that even officials are not above the law. Osman is charged with drug smuggling, tax evasion, and corruption.
Although Mr. Osman was arraigned while Sadat was still alive, in the past month his name has been linked to the former governor of Alexandria, a minister of state and advisory Shura Council, and to the late president's brother, Esmet Sadat.
And it appears to be the first time in recent years that the government-controlled press has called for the removal of officials suspected of corrupt practices. It has been calling for the governor and the minister of state to step down from their posts until their names have been cleared.
A theory also prevailing in official circles in Cairo is that Mubarak's wooing of opposition parties, and his release of 48 political opposition figures from prison, is to strengthen his hand for a assault on government corruption.
The new mood, reinforced by Mubarak's reputation for honesty, has radiated from the presidency into the lives of ordinary Egyptians. Civil servants who customarily took bribes to augment their meager incomes now fear they may be punished. It has given new hope to young people.