Tycoon from Egypt's wealthiest family ready to invest billions to boost 'solid state'

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt – A tycoon from Egypt’s wealthiest family said Friday that they are putting up a fifth of the country’s investment needs this year because it is the most stable place in a turbulent Middle East.

Naguib Sawiris, who built a telecommunications empire and whose family-founded Orascom Group is the country’s largest private-sector employer, said the government’s economic plan emerging from an international conference hosted by President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi required an ambitious amount of investment but that it could be raised.

“Of course it depends on the amount of investment we can collect — the plan calls for $15 billion a year in investments, and I believe it’s doable,” he told The Associated Press. “To give a ballpark figure, my family will provide this year, or at this conference, 20 per cent of that figure, in the energy sector.”

Egypt’s economy remains in the doldrums since a 2011 revolt, which was followed by the rule of elected but divisive Islamist president Mohammed Morsi. He was overthrown by then-army chief el-Sissi in 2013. The economy is picking up slowly but the government hopes the conference will spur investments to generate desperately needed jobs.

Sawiris said preliminary contracts would be signed between his brother Nassef’s construction company and investors from the United Arab Emirates.

“There will be announcements for a power plant of around $2 billion and I’m doing a solar plant for $120 million,” he said from the conference, at Egypt’s Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

Orascom Construction employs about 50,000 people in more than 20 countries, and is Egypt’s largest publicly traded company.

Sawiris said that given the region’s current upheaval, Egypt stood out as stable.

“Egypt is the most stable country in this big mess. We’ve acknowledged the mess in Libya, the mess in Iraq, in Syria,” he said. “The fact is, Egypt is solid, Egypt is stable. We are actually the last pillar of resistance against uncertainties.”

He lauded amendments to investment laws which were approved on the eve of the conference, streamlining corporate and income taxes.