Egypt’s billionaires put business over people

The outbreak of coronavirus has led many countries to take comprehensive decisions, such as implementing curfews and quarantine policies and suspending different kinds of businesses, except those necessary to serve people.

In Egypt, the government issued decisions to limit the movement of individuals and reduce gatherings. Also, it imposed a partial curfew, from 7pm until 6am. However, the government excluded from this curfew most factories and companies. Moreover, it encouraged whole sectors to keep working, like the contracting sector which employs about 4 million people. In fact, the Prime Minister himself urged the sector to continue working at full capacity. With the exception of the tourism sector, which is completely affected by the suspension of foreign and domestic tourism, no other sectors in Egypt have been suspended. Yet this does not satisfy Egyptian billionaires. Many of Egypt’s billionaire businessmen believe that the government should completely abolish the curfew, cancel the decisions taken to reduce gatherings and restore the normal, pre-crisis conditions.

Alaa Arafa, the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Arafa Holding, demanded that the production wheel returns to rotation and that only those who are already sick and the elderly should be isolated. The billionaire stressed that the collective isolation that is applied in many other countries did not succeed in reducing the numbers of people infected by COVID-19. Arafa believes that having workers and employees in the streets is better for them. “Collective isolation in densely populated countries as in Egypt is not feasible, but will negatively affect the health of citizens. Countries that implemented collective isolation are developed countries, while apartments in Egypt are narrow and contain large numbers of members of the same family and some of them may transmit the disease to others,” he said. Arafa’s claim that isolation has not succeeded in reducing the numbers of infected people ignores the experience of China in which a widespread isolation policy has resulted in the numbers of deaths and patients being significantly reduced. Arafa’s claim that going to work is better for Egyptians than staying in their “narrow apartments” ignores the fact that the population density in China, especially in industrial cities, is much higher than in Egypt, yet most businesses have been suspended in China and full isolation has been applied to about 70 million people. Arafa’s claim that “isolation should only be limited to certain segments, especially the elderly” disregards the fact that the virus does not differentiate between young and old and that recent studies confirm that young people are also getting infected and many of them may need special medical care, and may also die from it.

Likewise, billionaire Hussein Sabbour called for the need to return to work at full capacity immediately. “If we stop, the country will go bankrupt and we will all go bankrupt. We should not stop working, never. Every country has a limited endurance. We are weak and our energy is finished. We should act immediately,” he stated. When asked whether this would lead to the infection of thousands of people with the virus, Sabbour said: “What is the problem? The number of infections will increase, but there will be people who live, but with some human losses. This is better than people who are totally bankrupt, better than not finding food tomorrow.”

Egyptian billionaire businessman Naguib Sawiris, who earned $304 million in gold last year and whose wealth amounts to $3.1 billion, said that the economy should not be totally shut down. “Not everyone who is infected with the virus dies,” Sawiris said. “The current situation will lead to many people not working and they may end up committing suicide.” Sawiris called for the workers to return to their workplaces. “I care about the country’s economy,” he underlined. Paradoxically, he warned businessmen against investing at the moment, claiming that “there is going to be economic blood,” as if his call to stop businessmen from investing would boost the country’s economy. Sawiris justified his view, giving the example of Sweden. “Who will win, Sweden or the world? Sweden, the country of science and the Nobel Prize, refused to impose a curfew or disrupt work or any of these decisions that all countries of the world took to fight the spread of the coronavirus! Sweden decided that all people would continue their normal daily lives without any change,” he tweeted. The billionaire intentionally ignores that any comparison between Egypt’s medical sector and Sweden’s is irrelevant, since Sweden has one of the best comprehensive health care systems in the world, tremendous medical capabilities in relation to its population and a medical record for every citizen which is electronically adjusted on a daily basis. Sawiris’ tweet prompted the Swedish state’s official account on Twitter to reply to him. “It is true that it is too early to judge the actions of Sweden and other countries and it is true that there is no curfew in Sweden,” the official Swedish account said. “But saying ‘all people would continue their normal daily lives without any change’ is incorrect. The Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs recommended that citizens should not travel outside the country until mid-June, except in emergency situations. Currently, the elderly and vulnerable groups voluntarily isolate themselves and the visit to the homes of the elderly has been completely prevented. The priorities of the Swedish [government] in this crisis are 1. Setting the right procedure at the appropriate time; 2. Mitigating the consequences for citizens and companies; 3. Ensuring health care resources; 4. Reducing the spread of infection in the country. The government trusts the personal responsibility of the members of society.”