Egypt's Telecom Mogul Embraces Uprising

Historians in the News

Most Egyptian businessmen are keeping low profiles these days. The protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square blame them for Egypt's ills, and mobs have even trashed some of their properties. Yet Egypt's most prominent mogul, Naguib Sawiris, chairman of Orascom Telecom Holding, the Middle East's biggest telecom company, is in Cairo fielding calls on his mobile phone, appearing on TV, and (as a member of an informal committee of "wise men") negotiating with newly appointed Vice-President Omar Suleiman about a gradual transfer of power away from President Hosni Mubarak. Far from discouraged, the billionaire thinks a more vibrant Egyptian economy may emerge from the turmoil. "We will pull out [of the current crisis], I promise you," he says. "The fact that a family like mine did not leave is a good sign."

Some Cairo protesters have spoken ill of Sawiris, and looters have vandalized the shops, including an HSBC (HBC) branch, on the ground floor of his massive Nile City Towers complex. Yet he's been lucky so far. Unlike many Egyptian businessmen who rushed to serve in Mubarak's National Democratic Party or sought ties to the President's son, Gamal, the tart-tongued Sawiris isn't known publicly as a close ally of the regime. Before the crisis, he spoke openly about Egypt's ills and helped bankroll an independent newspaper, Al-Masry al-Youm. "He has maintained his distance from the ruling Establishment, not alienating them but not courting them," says Khaled Fahmy, a professor of history at the American University in Cairo....

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