My acquaintance with Samih Sawiris dates back to the first years of his ‘El-Gouna’ Project, which became a landmark in Egypt's tourism.
The project shows that comprehensive development can boost tourism by creating tourist centres and resorts.
El-Gouna has become a tourist destination that offers all utilities and facilities including hotels, restaurants, cafeterias, a hospital, university, school, airport and playgrounds.
Most importantly, I'd like to say that Samih Sawiris donates a third of his wealth & revenues to charities. He actually created several charitable organisations, which goes to show that a businessman can be the best example to others.
First, I talked with him about the current atmosphere, which no longer encourages or attracts investors.
Samih Sawiris replied: “The legal status of State-owned land has become a problem that annoys many. Banks are equally worried, so much so that they sometimes refuse to finance projects. We all know that banks cannot offer loans as long as there is the threat that they might by withdrawn due to a judicial ruling.”
• Has this phenomenon had an impact on your projects?
Samih Sawiris: “We planned to establish a Four Seasons Hotel in el-Gouna at an estimated cost of LE1 billion and started working on the project. But some cases filed in Egypt concerning the legal status of land had an impact on investors and induced banks to decline project financing.
As a result, we started to focus our efforts on foreign markets. We are working in eight countries in the Middle East and Europe, such as Morocco, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Switzerland, Romania and Montenegro.”
• Are your investments abroad of any benefit to Egypt?
“There is no doubt that an Egyptian company’s success when moving its expertise abroad and receiving money from the host country towards its investments enables the company to transfer this money to Egypt for the financing of other projects.
This also helps financing investment projects, which in turn increase job opportunities amidst the growing unemployment.”
• How many Egyptians work on your projects abroad?
“We employ 3.000 Egyptians. Our projects attract foreign investments; this is evidenced by the growing Orascom capital estimated at billions. Most of the capital came from foreign investors.”
• What about your Downtown Cairo Development Project?
“Most of those talking about this project are against it. Many flats in Central Cairo have turned into workshops, and restoring this area to its former glory is not favoured by the inhabitants of these flats because of their illegal status.
As a result, they talk badly about any project that intends to restore the heart of Cairo to its previous beauty. We hope that the values in Downtown will increase with the project’s upgrading.”
• Please tell me about your charitable projects!
“A third of the revenues from our projects are donated to charities. A university was established for example and a centre for street children.”
• When will this university be inaugurated? Will it specialise on particular subjects?
“We established this university in el-Gouna. It is affiliated with the Berlin University of Technology, one of the biggest German universities, where many Nobel laureates graduated in the last century. LE2 hundred million was donated to the creation of this university, which comprises the faculties of urban planning, water technology and energy technology.”
Speaking about the investment climate in post-revolution Egypt, Samih Sawiris went on to say: “The ferocious attack after the revolution on all businessmen without exception is extremely annoying. People generalise and accuse all businessmen of profiteering from land contracts.
Even those who purchased land for promotional prices and created building projects that provided jobs for thousands of people are not safe from these accusations.”
• Despite this, I feel that you have kept your optimism.
“Absolutely! I'm sure that everything will return to normal in Egypt. The scale of problems will force all future officials to act swiftly, so the proper atmosphere can be restored and attract local and foreign investments.
If this doesn’t happen, the economic situation will turn into a disaster. We have to wait until we have a new President.
All responsibility will be on his shoulders, not the officials who are currently in charge.”