CAIRO: Hundreds of workers at several Egyptian companies protested Monday in front of the State Council against an appeal filed by the government contesting a ruling to retrieve these companies to the public sector after years of privatization under the former regime.
The Administrative Court had issued rulings to regain the companies of Omar Affendi, Ghazl Shebeen, Tanta for Linen, El-Nasr for Steam Boilers and El-Nile for Cotton Ginning to the public sector.
The current government, however, along with the holding companies and some of the buyers of these companies appealed the rulings before the Supreme Administrative Court.
“The government is saying that the investors want the money they paid to buy the companies and that it doesn’t have enough money in the meantime,” said Ibrahim Farag, a protesting worker of El-Nile Company for Cotton Ginning. “Why don’t they sell the lands and property that were illegally taken before and during the revolution to a respectable entity or individuals?”
Many privatization deals have been hit with labor crises, with worker complaining of layoffs and lost financial rights.
The verdict to return the cotton ginning company to the public sector was issued on Feb. 17 and the government appealed it two months later, the workers said.
“We haven’t received our salaries in over seven month now,” they complained.
“A number of the company’s factories were shut down and the workers were fired, seven of these factories were in Minya governorate alone,” Wafiq said. “However, we are still working and refuse to go on strike. So we divided ourselves into shifts between the protest and work.”
Abdel Razeq Wafiq, another worker, said the current cabinet has a vested interest in filing the appeal, accusing the brother of a top official of being part of the contested deal.
Workers of Ghazl Shebeen Company said they don’t care about the appeal as much as they care about the fate of the families of more than 4,000 workers.
“The government refused to take control of the company after the verdict was issued last September,” said Samy Abou El-Yazid, one of the protesting workers. “They should take control of it to give us the salaries we haven’t received since the verdict and then appeal on whatever they want,” he added.
According to the workers of Ghazl Shebeen, the government appealed the verdict because it is afraid that investors might resort to international arbitration.
“The judge, however, said that there is no such a thing,” Abou Yazid said. “The Indian investor who bought the company in the first place left the country after the verdict and didn’t file an appeal.”
Mostafa Refaay, another worker at the company, told Daily News Egypt that the investor is unlikely to get their money back if they resorted to international arbitration.
“He closed three factories and fired a large number of workers. We were 14,000 when he bought the company, now we are around 4, 000,” he said. “He violated the terms of the contract he signed with the government therefore he didn’t appeal the verdict and won’t resort to other courts.”
On the other hand, Al-Sharq Al-Awsat newspaper said that Gamil Qanbit, Saudi investor in Egypt who is also the biggest shareholder in Omar Effendi chain stores, called upon the Egyptian government to give him back the capital he invested in the company that specializes in retail selling without going through judicial disputes, stressing that the disruption of business is not a good sign for the Egyptian economy.
The newspaper quoted Qanbit as saying, “I received an invitation from the Foreign Investments Authority in Egypt to invest in the company. When it was privatized we agreed that I would pay LE 950 million to get 85 percent of its shares because of my confidence in Egypt and its people. The company’s management received LE 650 million, borrowed from Egyptian banks, in the presence of representatives of other partners.”
“The new government should reach effective solutions that are equitable with the losses sustained by Saudi investments (in Egypt) during this period, so as not to reflect negatively on attracting foreign investment and on the Egyptian economy,” he told Al-Sharq Al-Awsat.