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Egypt’s billionaires call on country to return to work


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Egyptian men wearing masks wait outside a centre of non-governmental organisation Egyptian Food Bank to receive cartons with food aid on 5 April 2020 [MOHAMED EL-SHAHED/AFP/Getty Images)]


Critics have accused Egypt’s billionaires of putting profits above people after they called for Egyptians to return to work amid fears that the economy will not recover as the nationwide curfew extends into April.


The curfew runs from 8pm to 6am and all cafes, restaurants and youth clubs remain shut, as do schools and universities. Air traffic is still suspended.


President of Arafa Holdings Alaa Arafa said that only the sick and elderly should be isolated and that collective isolation will “negatively affect the health of citizens” on the grounds that in Egypt extended families live together in narrow flats and so risk passing COVID-19 between them and that they would be better off going to work.


Arafa inherited his business from his father, and deals with real estate, agriculture, cement, food industries and energy. He also acted as a go-between for the export of Egyptian gas to Israel.


The chairman and chief executive officer of Arafa Holding went on to say that isolation in other countries has not worked, despite the fact that the number of infections and deaths has dropped a month into a nationwide lockdown in Spain, one of the worst-hit countries.


Billionaire Hussein Sabbour, who is chairman of several engineering companies and whose net worth was estimated to be $7.3 billion in 2018, has called for the return to full work 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 limited endurance.”


What’s 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 there being no food.


Billionaire Naguib Sawiris caused widespread controversy last month when he threatened to commit suicide if Egypt’s coronavirus curfew continues.


Sawiris, who is Egypt’s second richest man after his younger brother Nassef, called for workers to return to factories, saying, “even if people get sick, they will recover” and that employees should sleep on factory floors and not return home to limit the unnecessary movement of people.


“I care about the country’s economy,” he added.


On 5 March he tweeted: “I took a decision, I don’t want to hear or speak about the coronavirus ever again… it’s unbelievable. Are we going to stop living because we are afraid of a virus?”


Sawiris compared Egypt’s approach to that of Sweden, where only the elderly and vulnerable groups voluntarily isolate themselves.


Critics have pointed out that the two countries cannot be compared since Sweden has one of the best health care systems in the world, whilst Egypt’s is verging on collapse due to years of mismanagement and underfunding.



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