* Steel magnate, ex-interior minister under investigation
* Protesters welcome steps against men seen as untouchable
* People will expect wider accountability, analysts say
By Tom Perry
CAIRO, Feb 4 (Reuters) - To Egyptians fed up with their government, businessman Ahmed Ezz and ex-interior minister Habib al-Adli symbolise two of the things that have gone wrong with their country: crony capitalism and oppressive security forces.
Seeking to absorb popular anger, President Hosni Mubarak has ostrascized both of them in a shake-up that has resonated with some but fallen well short of protesters’ main demand: the immediate departure of Mubarak himself.
Ezz and Adli were among a group of men banned from leaving Egypt on Thursday by the public prosecutor. He is investigating them on suspicion of theft of public money, profiteering and fraud, and has frozen their bank accounts.
They are some of the first political scalps claimed by the protests. Though Mubarak has yet to leave office — and has said he will not until his term ends in September — the protests have also destroyed the political career of his son, Gamal.
Many had thought Gamal was being groomed for the presidency, but that assumption was blown to pieces last week when the crisis forced Mubarak to appoint Omar Suleiman as his deputy.
The announcement of the public prosecutor’s investigation into Adli, Ezz, former tourism minister Ahmed el-Maghrabi and another former tourism minister, Zuhair Garana, drew cries of “Allahu Akbar” (God is Greatest) from protesters demonstrating in central Cairo. “For normal Egyptians, Ahmed Ezz and Habib el-Adli were like two supermen: they could not be touched,” said Diaa Rashwan, an Egyptian political analyst. “For Egyptians, it’s a good step, but too late.”
Until Mubarak sacked Adli last week, he had led the Interior Ministry and its huge police force for 14 years. In that time, the security forces’ reputation for brutality grew.
Human rights groups catalogued abuses including the wide use of torture. The death of Khaled Said, an anti-corruption activist, in June pushed anger to boiling point. Rights groups say he was tortured to death. Two policemen now face trial.
The Interior Ministry has been a vital tool of Mubarak’s control. Until the latest protests, riot police would have broken up most demonstrations with ease and frequently did so.
But they were overwhelmed in the first days of these protests and left the streets to looters and thugs who broke into banks and ransacked public an private properties.
They were replaced by the army. Mubarak and his vice president said an official investigation would take place to find out why the police forces stumbled.
Ezz has never been a minister but his public profile grew this decade as a confidant of Gamal Mubarak.
Chairman of Ezz Steel and a leading figure in the National Democratic Party (NDP), Ezz has been the target of public anger over his dominant position in the Egyptian market and claims of rigging legislative elections last year.
The election again returned a parliament dominated by the NDP. He has now resigned from the party. The government said the election was fair and that any regularities were checked.
Now, Egyptians would be wondering if and when the authorities would move against other regime figures, Radwan said. “Why arrest one or two but not the others?” he asked, adding that Thursday’s announcement confirmed “that we are really at the end of the game”. (Editing by Samia Nakhoul/Maria Golovnina)