In a small box, not larger than 20 cm2, in one the Egyptian newspapers, the legal liquidator Abany Partners notifies clients that EG-GATE is under liquidation. The liquidator demands all clients of the Egyptian company to communicate with him within 15 days from the appearance of the announcement in May 2021 to know their dues and debts. The unscheduled general assembly of the company approved the liquidation decision on 29 March 2021, according to the advertisement. The small advertisement did not attract the attention of specialists, let alone the public.
The striking decision came just two years after the establishment of the company, which was a joint-stock one launched by the Tahya Masr Fund (Long Live Egypt), the well-known Egyptian sovereign fund established by Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, with a capital worth EGP 1.2 billion. EG-GATE was established according to personal instructions from Sisi himself and a decision from PM Moustafa Madbouly early in 2019. Minas Ibrahim, the CEO of the company, said that EG-GATE is to be a huge e-payment gateway for all services and products in Egypt including those of the Egyptian government.
The liquidation decision was striking for the company’s employees, who found out about it a day after it was issued. One hundred and fifty young employees speculated over the reason for the decision after two years of hard work. The employees received instructions after the liquidation decision to quickly remove all information about the company on the internet as if they were working with a scam gang.
Strangely, the CEO told them hours before the closure decision that the company seeks to employ more workers. The young employees protested the decision, but they received implicit threats from their directors, a lot of them who are former generals. Finally, they implemented the instructions to close the social media accounts of the company, and some digital media reports about the company were removed, but the Facebook page and TV interviews with Minas Ibrahim remained available.
Over the two years, the employees received intensive training and found that the state-sponsored media promotes “Sisi’s sponsored project”. The CEO of the project, which was supposed to be a great push for Egyptian industries and services, furnished the headquarters of the company in The Smart Village with the best equipment and furniture at a cost of EGP 600 million. According to Minas Ibrahim’s statements and interviews, the company contracted with the ministries of military production, tourism, industry and trade, all governments, 500 projects, 75 hotels, and 75 tourism companies, to take 3D and 360 degree photographs of their products to be displayed on the digital gateway.
“All what was required from us was to dream and request the requirements to achieve the dream and it will be brought immediately,” one of the employees told Egypt Watch, describing the early work in the company. Routine bureaucracy was eliminated through the CEO, who enjoyed Sisi’s support. The president and his prime minister were proud of the company, which will be a universal gateway competing with Alibaba and Baidu. But where did the money go?
The Tahya Masr Fund was born through the “Donate a pound” campaign launched by Sisi in 2013. The campaign received a poor response, so Sisi declared the establishment of the fund with him donating with half of his salary and wealth. The armed forces donated EGP 1 billion, the Sawiris family donated EGP 3 billion, Mohamed Amin EGP 1.2 billion, and a lot of businessmen compete to donate.
The state-sponsored media libeled the businessmen who refused donations, on top of them Salah Diab, owner of Al Masry Al Youm daily, and Safwan Thabit, owner of Juhayna Food Industries. The government imposed a one per cent cut of its employees’ salaries and a 0.5 per cent cut of pensions for financing the new fund. Employees who protested the cuts were threatened with the new civil service law, which allow the dismissal of employees for political causes.
The fund turned out to be a great labyrinth after presidential decision no. 84 of 2015, which put the fund out of the general budget and, consequently, parliamentary oversight. Instead, Sisi formed a board composed of the prime minister, the sheikh of Al-Azhar, the governor of the Central Bank, the ministers of finance, investment, planning, industry and trade, and six other public personalities appointed by the president himself. Furthermore, the parliament approved, in April 2021, to exempt the fund from taxes and tariffs. The exemption involves the companies owned by the fund, including EG-GATE, which wasted hundreds of millions over two years, and whose state-of-the-art equipment, including those used for satellite imagery and e-payment, are to be liquidated without oversight.
When he declared the establishment of the fund, Sisi pledged in public to disclose every transaction or donation added to or spent from the fund. But he broke his promise totally by going seven years without disclosing the accounts of the fund.