Earlier this year, Forbes announced their annual list of the world’s billionaires. It included eight Egyptian men, with a combined fortune of US$23.4 billion, an 80 percent increase on the US$13 billion Egypt’s billionaires shared in 2010.
This surge in wealth accumulation comes at a time when Egyptians are being told to tighten their belts. Living standards have dropped since the revolution and Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s government is making it a priority to cut subsidies and introduce other austerity measures. Yet, far from feeling the pinch, Egypt’s billionaires are better off now than they have ever been. Currently, the eight men – and they are all men – who sit at the top control around six percent of Egypt’s total wealth.
Some of this wealth increase has come from abroad. Mohamed al-Fayed, for instance, made it on to Forbes’ list for the first time after selling his London department store Harrods for US$1.5 billion.
However, much of the money Egypt’s billionaires have accumulated since 2011 was gained in Egypt. Three of Egypt’s billionaires are members of the Mansour family, and partners in the Mansour Group. Mohamed Mansour (#2),Yasseen Mansour (#4), and Youssef Mansour (#5) have made their way on to the list, after decades of expanding a real estate and consumer goods empire, mostly in Egypt.
The Sawaris family have occupied the top spots on the Forbes list for years, although their collective wealth has fallen to US$12 billion from US$13 billion in 2010. The family is headed by father Onsi (#7), along with his three sons Nassef (#1), Naguib (#3), and Samih (#8). Although they have interests overseas, their primary source of income is through the Orascom Group, which includes Orascom Construction Industries (OCI), Orascom Telecom, and Orascom Development. OCI has been granted important government contracts to expand the Suez Canal and build a new coal fired power plant.
The vast increases of the wealth of the few men at the top compares strikingly with the hardships faced by the rest of the country. Figures for the current year are not yet available, but data shows a sharp uptick in poverty since the 2011 revolution.
In 2013, state statistics agency CAPMAS reported that 21.5 million people were living below the state poverty line of LE10.7 per person per day, compared to the 2010 figure of 16.5 million. Millions more were living at or below LE13.9 per day, amounting to 49.9 percent of the population in 2013.