Egyptian businessmen in Twitter spat

Marwa Hussein , Sunday 6 Apr 2014

Naguib Sawiris and Hassan Heikal bicker over energy subsidy reform on Twitter

Hassan Heikal and Naguib Sawiris
Hassan Heikal (R) and Naguib Sawiris (Photo: Ahram Online Archive)

Hassan Heikal, the former executive managing director of EFG Hermes, has used Twitter to open fire on Naguib Sawiris, a leading investor in telecommunications worldwide.

"In fact, the largest beneficiary of energy subsidies in the private sector is Sawiris! I am trying to avoid this talk," Heikal tweeted on Saturday.

A couple of hours later, Sawiris replied: "I wonder how those who made their fortune out of the rich now attack them and pretend to be a socialist, Nasserite and patriot, while they are out of the country."

Sawiris then retweeted a post saying: "Like father like son… He pretends to be a socialist after the first 50 million," a clear reference to Heikal, who is widely believed to be living in London.

Heikal made his comment while discussing a government scheme to use coal in cement factories in order to reduce subsidies, despite criticism from campaigners and the environment ministry.

Heikal and Sawiris adopt significantly different views on the reforms needed to Egypt's LE120 billion energy subsidy system. 

For Hassan, son of Hassanein Heikal, who wrote speeches for president Gamal Abdel-Nasser and is currently supporting El-Sisi, the solution to Egypt's growing energy crisis is to stop subsidies for the private sector and fix new prices for electricity.

"This way we will not need coal and there won't be blackouts," he tweeted.

He also believes the rich benefit from these subsidies, while not paying their fair share of tax. While the middle classes, who endure the tax burden, benefit least.

For Sawiris, the solution is to completely dismantle the subsidy system and compensate the poorest.

Heikal's views have been controversial for the business class in Egypt. In November 2011, he wrote an article in the Financial Times promoting the imposition of a "one-off global wealth tax of 10-20 percent on individuals with a net worth in excess of $10 million."

The businessman, who boasts being present in Tahrir Square in January 2011, was accused in 2012, along with Hosni Mubarak's sons, of profiteering in the sale of El-Watany Bank of Egypt (AWB).

Heikal resigned from his post as CEO of the investment bank in October 2013 after 18 years, saying he wanted to focus on public service. 

An asset freeze imposed on Heikal was reversed in March 2013.

Naguib Sawiris was listed 13 on the Forbes list of richest Arabs in 2013, with a net worth of $2.8 billion. In 2010, Arabian Business estimated the joint fortune of Hassan Heikal and his brother Ahmed, the chairman and founder of Citadel Capital, at $1.78 billion.

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