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Sisi's new elite: contractors, ex-militaries and businessmen who support him

January 14, 2022 at 4:57 pm

Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi. [ARIS MESSINIS/AFP via Getty Images]

Over the past few days, the arrest of the renowned Egyptian businessman, Mohamed Al-Amin, has been trending on social media. The media mogul who founded CBC network in 2011, which turned rapidly into one of the most prominent TV network in Egypt, is charged with human trafficking and sexual abuse.

According to a press release from the Egyptian prosecution, Amin is accused of sexually abusing and even assaulting girls in an orphanage he owned in Beni Suef. What promoted the trend was that, in parallel, another lustrous businessman who has also founded the Al-Mehwar TV since before 2011, Hassan Rateb, and the Member of Parliament, Alaa Hassanein, were being tried for antiquities trafficking.

The concurrent trials of businessmen raised queries over what was happening between the business community and the authorities in Egypt.

Over the past few years, the Egyptian authorities have targeted numerous businessmen suspected of sympathising with the Muslim Brotherhood. Topping them was Hassan Malek, the notorious businessman in the Muslim Brotherhood, who was arrested in 2015 and then sentenced to life imprisonment and his son, Hamza, and his partner, Abdel Rahman Saudi, the owner of Saudi hypermarkets. Malek and Saudi were followed by other businessmen who have such loose links with the Muslim Brotherhood as Omar el-Shenity, the financial investor who was arrested in 2019 within the case of the hope cell, who was jailed over initial arrangements to run for the then-upcoming parliament.

Another case was Sayed Al-Swerki, the owner of Al-Tawhid wa Al-Nour department stores, the most widespread and oldest stores all over the country. Swerki was arrested in 2020, and the government confiscated his gigantic stores.

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The above-mentioned are just examples of those businessmen targeted over claims of relations with the Muslim Brotherhood, while the entire range cannot be counted here. Notwithstanding, numerous other businessmen were targeted, though they have no such suspicions. The most striking case is Salah Diab, the Egyptian tycoon and member of the American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt.

Diab was targeted after a phone call leak between him and Ahmed Shafik, the ex-presidential candidate. The latter was arrested in 2018 after declaring his intention to run for the presidency and deported to Egypt. From then on, Al-Masry Al-Youm, the Egyptian popular private daily that Salah Diab owns, was spotted as one of Egypt’s rare independent media outlets that was not yet expropriated by the regimes’ security bodies. Salah Diab was pressured to concede Al-Masry Al-Youm, and then he was arrested in 2020 for a few weeks.

After all, the most recent case was that of Safwan Thabit, the founder and owner of Juhayna Food Industries that monopolises milk products in Egypt. Thabit has family relations with historical figures from the Muslim Brotherhood. Still, he is known for his colourless apathy towards politics, so he managed to found his economic empire under the former President, Mohamed Hosni Mubarak, who kept raging tensions with the Muslim Brotherhood. In 2015, exchanging Thabit’s stocks in Juhayna was ceased by the Egyptian Stock Exchange due to a decision from the committee assigned to confiscate the Muslim Brotherhood stocks and assets. Nevertheless, Thabit was not arrested until December 2020 and followed by his son, Seif, a few months later, who assumes the Chairmanship of Juhayna. After that, the Egyptian authorities accused Thabit of funding terrorism. Last October, the Egyptian police declared they arrested Thabit’s assistant, Yehia Mahran, who was said to have 8.4 million dollars in cash inside his apartment, prepared to fund terrorist activities of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Reports by Egypt Watch and other independent media outlets in Egypt revealed that Thabit and his family were targeted, not due to terrorism but to pressure Thabit to concede the main bulk of his stocks in Juhayna to the military.

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As for Al-Amin and Rateb, they showed no dissidence against Al-Sisi, and they are known, especially Al-Amin, for his hostility towards the Muslim Brotherhood. Amin was the media mogul who sponsored the Egyptian comedian media critic, Bassem Youssef, who virulently attacked the late President, Mohamed Morsi, while in office and was a figure of the media campaign against him. Amin also founded Al-Watan Daily in 2012 and adopted an editorial line that became conformist to the new regime of Al-Sisi’s tenets. However, what happened with Al-Amin could be explained by Al-Amin liaison with Emirates that its relationship with Egypt was reportedly strained.

Tensions between the current Egyptian regime of Al-Sisi and the business elite also assumed various forms, other than arrests and confiscation. For example, they appeared when the Egyptian tycoon of Ceramica Cleopatra, Mohamed Aboul Enin, the pro-Sisi Sada Al-Balad TV owner, sought to play a political role with the new government regime. As a result, Aboul Enin was appointed as a vice president of the National Future Party, the state-sponsored party which dominates the parliament. Notwithstanding, Aboul Enin had to run for parliament out of the party title after conceding his position in the electoral list to another candidate.

Most recently, a statement from Naguib Sawiris criticising the military business engagement as an anti-free market condition raised a query over the relationship status between the Egyptian mogul and most renowned businessman and the Egyptian regime. Sawiris was expelled from politics earlier in 2015 after many ex-military members of the party Sawiris had founded, the Free Egyptian Party, seized power and overthrew him.

However, the overall scene says Al-Sisi is not relaxed with the current businessmen community he inherited from Mubarak. On the contrary, he aspires to replace them with a new, more loyal community that directly links with his regime.

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Over the past few years, the government assigned massive public projects to contractors without tenders. Those contractors are usually known for their ties with the security bodies and their partnership with ex-militaries. Among those contractors is Saeed Mahmoud, an ex-storekeeper in The Nile Company for Roads and Bridges that the General Intelligence manages. Saeed works with ex-General Farouk Al-Qadi, an Egyptian counsellor who has a family network inside the military and governmental institutions that pass his business.

This is an example of the “clientelist” system Al-Sisi built up in Egypt. He aspires to exchange economic advantages to a new business community for dedicated political support and organic relation with his regime. Such “clientelism” consolidates his power but distorts the financial scene and strains the relationship with the old elite.

The new Sisi’s elite structurally differs from Mubarak’s. The old elite that developed over the 70s and 80s, consisted mainly of senior professionals who had built up professional know-how, expertise and core capital through working abroad or acquiring agencies of foreign brands and products during the economic open-up epoch of Sadat. On the other hand, the new awaited elite are petty retailers, contractors and ex-militaries. They grow their fortunes from the government projects, through interest networks inside the military and government institutions.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.