Page last updated at 13:42 GMT, Wednesday, 4 June 2008 14:42 UK

Mubarak's date with the tax man

By Magdi Abdelhadi
BBC News, Cairo

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak
Mr Mubarak, 80, has been president of Egypt for nearly 27 years

An Egyptian newspaper has taken the unusual step of publishing what it calls "visual proof" that the president pays his taxes just like everyone else.

Egypt's state-run press often like to show Hosni Mubarak on their front pages and his comments make headline news.

But one daily has found a new angle, reproducing a bill Mr Mubarak paid for EŁ65 excise duty - or about $10.

The president's office insisted on paying the duty on a box of dates sent by a Saudi royal, the paper said.

The story - published by Akhbar al-Youm at the weekend - has raised some eyebrows in Egypt, and has been the subject of much mischievous fun which the Egyptians like to poke at their leaders.

Taxing credulity

The 80-year-old president, with his immaculately black hair, is invariably pictured on the front page of Akhbar al-Youm and other state-owned newspapers.

Why are you reluctant to accept the payment? Take it right away
Finance Minister Youssef Ghali, quoted by Akhbar al-Youm
The tax bill story was an exception to an old and treasured editorial guideline of the pro-government press.

Under the banner headline "President Mubarak has paid 65 pounds in tax", it showed a photocopy of what it said was the evidence - a receipt in the name of the president from the customs authority.

The paper continues in an excited tone, complete with exclamation marks, that a few days ago Finance Minister Youssef Ghali had received an urgent phone call from an incredulous director general of the customs authority.

A box of dates had been given to the president by a Saudi Arabia, and the head of customs official told the minister that the president's office was insisting on paying the customs fees.

"Why are you reluctant to accept the payment? Take it right away," the minister reportedly thundered.

PR disaster

A few minutes later, the paper added , the minister phoned the director general again, reminding him not to forget to add the VAT.

Egyptian bread queue
Poverty is rife in Egypt, with many citizens surviving on subsidised staples
Akhbar al-Youm then gave an exhaustive description of how the fees were paid, how the box of dates was handed over to the president's office, and details of the serial number and type of excise receipt that was issued, and the cashier who issued it, Abdullah Ahmad.

Egyptians often complain of rampant corruption in the state machinery and that laws apply only to the poor.

But if the intent was to stress the president's integrity, it has clearly backfired.

One broadcaster asked mischievously on his popular night show: "Does this mean that this is the first time the president has paid excise duty?"

Or may be even worse, he quipped, the state is probably planning to impose new tax on impoverished Egyptians on dates imported from Saudi Arabia.

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