Wednesday,13 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1136, 21 - 27 February 2013
Wednesday,13 December, 2017
Issue 1136, 21 - 27 February 2013

Ahram Weekly

Business with an Islamic touch

Osama Farid is No 2 in the Egyptian Business Development Association formed by the Muslim Brotherhood. He explains how the new association differs from former business groups

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Al-Ahram Weekly

“The Egyptian Business Development Association [EBDA] neither excludes prominent businessmen from the Mubarak regime, nor does it include only members of the Muslim Brotherhood or having Islamist leanings,” Osama Farid, co-founder and head of international relations for the EBDA, said, writes Sherine Abdel-Razek.

The one-year-old association, which now has 500 members, aims to help small and medium-sized businesses to make profits while also meeting their social responsibilities, he added.

“We don’t have a lot of cash cows in the association, as the business model that we adopt is based on small and medium-sized enterprises, like in the Turkish model where such companies are the backbone of the economy.”

According to Farid, the idea of forming a new umbrella group for businessmen in Egypt after the revolution was to set up an association that would help correct lay misconceptions about businessmen by introducing a new calibre of business people who put social responsibility and societal welfare before profit.

Farid said that the number of members related to the Muslim Brotherhood did not exceed four per cent of overall EBDA members, and when asked whether most of the members of the board of directors had Islamist leanings he said that the board members would not stay the same forever and that the association included members of multinational companies.

Many Mubarak-era businessmen were convicted of profiteering and business misconduct leading to prison sentences or travel bans after the revolution. “Members of the new association include many businessmen who were close to the old regime. We are willing to incorporate icons of the former regime who do not face criminal charges in order to help us rebuild confidence in the country’s business atmosphere. It is sad to see foreigners believing in our potential more than our fellow businessmen,” Farid said.

Aware of the scepticism surrounding the organisation, he said that the EBDA was not a part of the ruling regime and its members did not enjoy any kind of preferential treatment. “Sometimes our recommendations are adopted by the government, but this is not necessarily the case always. Our role is that of a consultant.”

Amid the political turmoil now dividing the country between the Islamist regime and the more secularist members of the opposition, the EBDA is trying to act as a link between the regime and civil society, as seen by its role in the national dialogue explaining different aspects of the government’s reform programme to the people and the business arena.

One example is a conference it recently held to explain tax reforms to the society and to the business community. Economic decisions may have shortcomings, but this did not mean that people should ignore democratic tools in showing their objections, Farid said.

It was here that there was a role for “rational and responsible business alliances,” he added.

He said there was currently a campaign to distort Political Islam and demonise it for its alleged incapacity to run the country, despite the fact that an Islamic paradigm has succeeded in Malaysia, Turkey and Indonesia.

“The ruling regime is bombarded with problems, so why is there all this talk about subsidies now? A lot of countries use high subsidies, and even Egypt stayed for years burdened with them. Stressing the need to lift the subsidies now is just a way to add to the tasks of the current government.”

One of the roles of the EBDA is to transfer know-how from the Islamic economies and financial systems in other countries to Egypt and to try to make it work here. “We send businessmen and receive experts to find out more about their programmes, and we then formulate recommendations that we pass on to the president and the business arena,” Farid said.

EBDA organised the business delegations that accompanied President Mohamed Morsi on his trips to China and Germany.

While he has never been a formal member of the Brotherhood, Farid’s father was a prominent member who spent long years in prison. Farid kept good personal ties with his father’s colleagues, but depended on his own resources to finish his degree as a civil engineer and start a career in real estate. He started his private housing business in the late 1970s.

During the next 10 years he worked in the textiles industry and then established a small regional airline called Orca Air whose activities have now been frozen.

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