The business community in Egypt was mourning the loss last week of Mohamed Farid Khamis, a business tycoon whose company, Oriental Weavers (OW), is internationally renowned as one of the best machine-woven carpet-producers worldwide.
Many people, including workers, officials and businessmen, turned out to express their condolences at his funeral in Cairo last Friday. “Khamis was an icon of Egyptian industry over 30 years,” said Motasem Rashed, an economic consultant.
Khamis was chair of Egypt’s Investors Federation and was founder and chair of the board of a group of companies including Oriental Weavers in Egypt and the US, the Misr American Company for Carpets and Rugs (MAC), the 10 Ramadan Company for Spinning Industries, the Safa Company for Polypropylene Yarn, the Egyptian Fibres Company (EFCO), producing polypropylene staple fibre and needle felt carpet products including wall-to-wall carpets, and the Alwan Carpet Company making carpets and rugs.
In fields other than textiles and carpet manufacturing, Khamis established the Oriental Company for Urban Development in Egypt in 1994 (OUD) and the Oriental Petrochemicals Corporation in 1996. He was chair of the board of trustees of the British University in Egypt.
Khamis graduated from the Faculty of Commerce in 1961 and joined the National Bank of Egypt after his graduation, where he worked until 1967, He received post-graduate training in textile manufacturing in the US after his graduation and established Oriental Weavers in 1980. The company grew under his leadership to become the largest and fastest-growing machine-made rug and carpet manufacturer in the world.
It received a number of awards. According to Rashed, who had known Khamis for more than 25 years, he “was a business idol”.
Khamis believed in the social responsibility of business and established the Mohamed Farid Khamis Association for Social Development, which sponsored the education of dozens of students each year. Acting on his belief that education and scientific research are main ways for countries to achieve progress and development, the Association pays the university tuition fees of the first 100 students in each year’s Thanaweya Amma exam (the high-school graduation exam) and the first five students in the preparatory phase.
Khamis was the first to ask for an increase in the minimum wage for workers. “All workers’ demands were accepted,” commentators said, explaining the large number of workers attending his funeral. “His philosophy in industry was based on a love relationship between the capital owner, the worker, and the machine. He loved the workers and they gave him back love and dedication.”
Job vacancies for Oriental Weavers used to say “we are looking for new members to join the Oriental Weavers family,” evidence of the family atmosphere Khamis was keen to offer workers in his factories.
The policy paid back: Oriental Weavers reported net profits of LE855 million in 2019. Last year, exports reached LE3.9 billion, representing 65 per cent of the company’s total sales, with the rest being sold locally.
The grand imam of Al-Azhar in Cairo mourned Khamis in a statement, saying that he was “a good man and one of the pioneers of national industry.” He said that Khamis had given generous funds to establish Al-Azhar institutions in villages across the country and had worked to support poorer people through his association.
Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church also mourned Khamis. According to a statement, “Khamis enriched the Egyptian economy over many years and had a special interest in Upper Egypt where he launched many development and charity projects.”
The statement said that Khamis had shared in promoting “the path of the Holy Family in Egypt” and had produced distinguished textiles showing the blessed visit to Egypt. He had also donated carpets to the new Maghagha Archbishopric.
“These deeds came out of his belief that money is God’s gift, and he was simply the way to deliver it to those in need. If it decreased as a result of what he had distributed, God would increase his gifts,” Rashed said. Khamis also believed in the importance of education and of the African continent for Egypt. “He offered scholarships for African students at the Shorouk Academy and the British University in Egypt, for example,” he added.
Khamis died in the US and was buried in the Sharqiya governorate, according to his will. Rashed told Al-Ahram Weekly that “Khamis used to call Egypt ‘the kind land’” and had always refused to take American nationality.
Rashed said that the importance of Khamis’ work for the Egyptian economy was obvious through the high export figures of his companies. Khamis was an appointed member of the Shura Council in 2008, a member of the board of the Investment Association, and a member of board of trustees of 10 October City.
Khamis recently announced that he had obtained approval from the Urban Communities Authority for a 50-feddan plot of land in 10 Ramadan City to establish the largest industrial university in the Middle East. Khamis once said that “10 Ramadan City is for me my first love. I had the honour to be the first worker in the city, and I was the first to build a tomb to be buried there.”
He is survived by his son Mohamed and his two daughters Yasmine and Farida.
“Although we feel grief after his loss, he built industrial establishments that are firmly based and that can continue his daily work. The textile looms will continue to produce, and we will exert all our efforts to keep them going, knowing how he always emphasised the value of work,” Rashed said.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 1 October, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.