Returning Home: Naguib Sawiris refocuses on telecoms

Despite having apparently walked away from the Egyptian telecoms sector to pursue a career in politics, Naguib Sawiris, Egypt’s second richest man and member of the Orascom telecoms dynasty, seems to be finding that decision difficult to stick to as he continues to look for new telecoms opportunities.

The contribution by Sawiris to advancing the North African and global telecommunications network has been substantial.

It thus came as somewhat of a shock when the dedicated telecoms mogul decided to turn his back on business and take up a career in politics. Setting up his own liberal political party, known as the Free Egyptians, Sawiris turned his attentions to promoting secularism in the country, which is seeing a continuous tightening of Islamic requirements under the current direction of the Muslim Brotherhood.

As if to cement this move, in April 2011 Sawiris sold almost the entire stake of the Sawiris dynasty in Orascom, merging Wind Telecom with Russian giant Vimpelcom, in a US$6.5 billion deal that saw Sawiris become a major shareholder in the Russian company and step down from his position as CEO at Orascom.

However, with the Free Egyptians failing to make gains in lower house elections, Sawiris announced the party would be boycotting the upper house elections citing polling violations. Since then he is rumoured to be making a move back into telecoms.

Earlier this year, Sawiris revealed plans to dispose of non-mobile assets which were excluded from the Vimpelcom deal, and to ramp up growth of OTMT through aggressive acquisitions and expansion of overseas activities – with a particular eye on further market dominance in North Korea, and gaining a foothold in Europe.

Over the summer, Sawiris announced his support of a new fund management group – to be led by Sawiris’ part-owned Accelero Capital, under the management of ex-Wind Telecom employees – which will concentrate on the buying up of struggling European telecoms businesses and turning them around into profit.

It is clear, then, that while Sawiris has talents and aspirations beyond the telecoms sector, it has not taken long for Egypt’s second richest man to be tempted back onto home turf, to play the telecoms global game.

Joining the family enterprise Orascom in 1979, Sawiris immediately took the reins of the telecoms and information technology operations of the company. Buoyed by the successes of the family company on the Egyptian tech market, the decision was made to separate the company into separate entities. Orascom Telecom (OT) and Orastom Technology Systems (OTS) were born with Sawiris at the helm to lead up expansion with a view to taking over the North African market.

Orascom Telecom Holdings (OTH) was established in 1997, with Sawiris in the role of executive chairman. Since then, he has pushed the company into the limelight of the Egyptian telecoms scene, OTH launching Egypt’s first mobile network – Mobinil – in 1998. Mobinil has since taken over the market, and is one of Egypt’s two major mobile network operators.

In a separate move in 2005, Sawiris founded Weather Investments (now known as Wind Telecom), which amidst huge media coverage completed a buy-out of Italian Wind Telecommunications. Since then, Weather Investments’ subsidiary Orascom Telecom and Media Technology Holdings has experienced a boom through its worldwide projects.

Through its stakeholdings, OTMT has taken over the mobile network market in North Korea and the Lebanon. Its various companies provide extensive media and advertising services, internet portal and platform solution services, and also conduct software development – spanning countries around North Africa, the Middle East and Europe. Finally, OTMT is also responsible through its various units for the laying of fibre-optic cables for the North Africa, the Middle East, certain Asian countries, and connects Europe to North Africa.

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