Money and Politics / They Have a Tycoon Problem, Too

Nearly 70 wealthy businessmen serve in Egypt's parliament today, but most of the criticism is directed at a handful of businessmen close to Mubarak.

Human rights, freedom of expression, unemployment and democratization are among the issues troubling the protesters against Hosni Mubarak's regime.

mubarak - AP - January 31 2011

But as in Tunisia, the Egyptian ruling family got into bed with a group of wealthy businessmen and friends.

Over the years, this resulted in regime-wide corruption and became the subject of much criticism.

Nearly 70 wealthy businessmen serve in Egypt's parliament today, but most of the criticism is directed at a handful of businessmen close to Mubarak. Some of them are family members.

For example, the father-in-law of Gamal Mubarak, the president's son, is Mahmoud al-Gamal, who owns one of Egypt's largest contracting firms.

Another is Dr. Ibrahim Kamel, one of Egypt's wealthiest businessmen, who owns a conglomerate that controls 16 firms in tourism and construction.

Kamel, despite his deep involvement in Egyptian politics using his wealth, is not the bad guy. That title reserved for two other billionaires: Hisham Mustafa and Ahmed Az.

Both have very close ties to the president's family, and both, according to reports from Egypt, made their money with the help of the president's sons, Gamal and Alaa.

The latter keeps a low profile but is very active in the Egyptian business scene.

Mustafa, owner of Egypt's largest real estate company, is also a close friend of Gamal Mubarak and his mother, Suzanne Mubarak.

According to the daily Al-Shuruk, Gamal Mubarak was a business partner to Mustafa; together they made a few deals with a Saudi billionaire.

egypt - AP - January 31 2011

But Mustafa shocked Egypt, especially the ruling family, when it was discovered that he was responsible for the murder of the Lebanese singer Suzanne Tamim in her Dubai home in 2008. Mustafa is now in prison.

A member of the elite

Ahmed Az is a different type. He belongs to Egypt's political and business elite. He was born in 1959 and graduated from Cairo University's engineering faculty.

He is the son of Abdel Aziz Az, an Egyptian army general, who Egyptians say married a young Israeli woman in 1956 and Ahmed is their son.

Az met Gamal Mubarak at an economic conference in Amman; the friendship that ensued made him a member in the policy making committee from which he resigned this week.

According to Egyptian press reports, in 1997 Az received a $600 million loan from the Italian Danieli Group, which was guaranteed by the Egyptian government.

The housing minister granted 20 million square meters west of Suez Bay, and the country invested 12 billion Egyptian pounds for infrastructure.

The project was to build a steel plant. In one part of the land allotted by the government, Az built an airstrip for private planes. He owns four.

Gamal Mubarak has close links with the country's telecommunications industry through his friends and especially Gamal Sadat, son of the late president Sadat. Gamal Sadat is chairman of the Etisalat cellular telephony company.

The father of his sister-in-law is also an owner of Telecom Egypt, which operates the country's second cellular network and was a partner with Mohammed Nusseir, one of the owners of Vodafone Egypt.

Changes in the regime's pyramid may not only affect the income of the company owners but also undermine the country's economic infrastructure.