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Egypt billionaire: State, army companies make business 'unfair'

Egyptian businessman Naguib Sawiris takes to the red carpet at the closing ceremony of the 2nd El Gouna Film Festival on 28 September 2018 in Hurghada, Egypt [Jonathan Rashad/Getty Images]
Egyptian businessman Naguib Sawiris takes to the red carpet at the closing ceremony of the 2nd El Gouna Film Festival in Hurghada, Egypt on 28 September 2018 [Jonathan Rashad/Getty Images]

Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris has warned that the government's engagement in the private sector creates "unfair" competition and an "unequal playing field".

"Government-owned or military-affiliated companies do not pay taxes or customs. Of course, we can't do that, so the competition is unfair from the start," Sawiris told AFP.

"The state must be a regulator of economic activity, not an owner," he said. Sawiris warned that the country can't rely on the "state forever" to keep the economy afloat.

"When I see government firms (in the race), I don't even bid because it's not an equal playing field," Sawiris added.

Since he assumed power in 2014, President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi has allocated large areas of land, particularly along the coast, for real estate, tourism and agricultural development. This land is then used for real estate projects for the army.

It is estimated that the Egyptian army owns some 40 per cent of Egypt's total GDP and owns construction firms, cement plants, hotels and invests in key sectors including tourism.

In June, Al-Sisi allocated two areas of state-owned land in Minya and Beni Suef to the armed forces so they could be used for agricultural purposes.

In 2019 the president issued a resolution allocating 47 state-owned islands in the Red Sea to the army on the pretext that it was of strategic military importance.

The islands were used for tourism purposes and were famous dive and snorkelling sites.

At the same time, Egyptian authorities began implementing a 2016 decree which allocated two kilometres of land on either side of major roads in Sinai as property of the Ministry of Defence which was predicted to displace more than 80 per cent of the local population.

READ: Egypt's private sector is squeezed by the army's hold over the economy

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