Naguib Sawiris: "We will turn Ayia Napa into an expensive destination"
What the Egyptian Croesus says about the Ayia Napa marina and business activities
The Egyptian investor, Naguib Sawiris, spoke exclusively on SIGMA TV and Chrysanthos Tsouroullis. Mr. Sawiris expanded on his large investment for the construction of the Marina in Ayia Napa, for the economy of Cyprus and its prospects. At the same time, he made suggestions for changes required in the Cypriot business.
The interview as follows:
QUESTION: Mr. Sawiris, you are an important player in the Egyptian economy and you have been active in Cyprus for a long time. Why did you choose Cyprus to expand your (successful) activities?
For many reasons. First, Cyprus is 50 minutes from Egypt. 30 minutes from Beirut, and about the same from Israel. An hour from Greece. It is in a unique location, the infrastructure is excellent, the people are very good and hospitable, the weather is amazing, I see no reason why I should not be in Cyprus. And I think now is a good time, I came to a good time, because there was a time of economic crisis during which Cyprus was gllomy, people were depressed, people lined up to get money from the banks - remember - it was a bad time. When I come to invest here, I always invest in the worst period, because then investors do not come. When you invest in the worst case scenario, many things are in your best interest. One is that you enjoy the appreciation from the Government and the people, that you came at a difficult time, the government wants to have investors because there are not many, so your entry is easier and you can work in a quieter environment, because you do not you have competition. I came at a good time.
QUESTION: So you saw the opportunity at a difficult time?
I can not explain it to you. Cyprus is a neutral country. It is not in conflict with any country. I know about the Turkish threats, but this area is largely calm. The weather is good all year round. And as I said, the infrastructure is great, and you have bureaucracy, which is good. In the end, it works / it works. When something is too strict and not so clear.
QUESTION: I understand that the work of the Marina in Ayia Napa is progressing rapidly. Does this pace of project implementation meet your expectations?
Yes, we had a year, 9 months delay, due to environmental issues, which were not justified, we were forced to postpone the work for 9 and 12 months, we had to spend 4 million euros, to satisfy - in my opinion - unjustified requests , but we did not want to get involved in controversy. It is better to spend 4 million more as the technocrats ask, regardless of whether you are not convinced, than to enter into a discussion. However, this led to a nine-month delay. We open the port of Ayia Napa in November, so we have to make up for lost time.
QUESTION: In the eyes of an experienced entrepreneur in your field, what are the main problems facing business in Cyprus?
It is the same everywhere else. We have environmental issues, which are sometimes extreme and unfounded. I had the same problems in the United States, but there Donald Trump has extreme behavior. I value environmental issues when they are valid, not when they are out of context. Sometime you not… When it has a large area of land that is ready for development, and you say No, because it is a Natura area, an area visited by 2 birds. The 2 birds will find another place to go… So, yes, between growth and job creation, the world, improving the economy… there must be a proper balance. Not to exaggerate in one direction or another.
QUESTION: Is there anything in the business environment of Cyprus that you would like to change and if so, what would it be?
Of course. The bureaucracy. The decision-making process is sometimes very slow. And when you are slow, you deprive your country of income. Let's look at it from the investor's point of view. You have 100 million to invest, which will create 2 thousand new jobs, and they will contribute to taxation. As long as you are hindered, the money does not come, the jobs are not created. So the problem with government agencies is that they do not realize the urgency, for them it is a job. They work from 9 to 5, if you do not make a decision, nothing happened, if you make a decision and it is investigated, then, it is better not to make decisions. The same thing happens in my country. The bureaucracy in Egypt is worse. But what I am saying is that if you are a patriot, and you love your country, and you want to see your country become the richest country in the Mediterranean, and you can, because God has given you everything, good weather, good land, tradition, education, you have good universities, good schools., you have a passion for service delivery, there are talented people in the field, so you should be a global tourist and business hub. What we bring to Ayia Napa with the project is that it is intended for wealthy tourists, what we do is that we do not compete with existing hotels and marinas, because we have chosen to turn Ayia Napa into an expensive destination. It will appeal to tourists who want to spend more, will want to stay in a high quality hotel, in the best restaurants, the best marinas, in terms of infrastructure and service, will come to Ayia Napa. So, you are addressing a specific group of tourists, and not the groups that come and spend 100 or 200 euros.
QUESTION: Will this lead to higher inflows?
Exactly. And more jobs. The project with Marina will create 1000 new jobs - in the marina, in restaurants, in shops, in hotels.
QUESTION: When will this happen?
The first phase is delivered in November, and the Marina will officially open on July 11. And we will celebrate this with a big event, to attract the spotlight in Ayia Napa. I chose Ayia Napa because I have experiences from the area. When I was 18, 19 years old, I used to come here. As a poor tourist. I was a student, I did not have much time, but I had a great time. At that time the majority were Swedes, Finns, Danes. They were vacationing here, and the beaches are incomparable, I have memories from here.
QUESTION: In recent years, Cyprus has faced accusations that it is a tax "paradise" and a center for money laundering. What is your opinion?
People believe that if you need an extra passport, you must be a criminal. Now, why do the Chinese want to get a Cypriot passport? Because they live in a country that is anti-democratic, controlled by the Communist Party, there is no freedom. One day you may be banned from traveling, you do not feel safe. They come and say that I want to become a Cypriot citizen, because there is democracy, the rule of law, and order, and I want a passport so that I can travel to Europe. It is not just about the passport. He comes here and buys a house, pays several millions and buys a mansion. He comes here with his family. For the house you need a guide, workers, the contractor will work, you buy furniture from here, and then, he likes the country, and he wants to invest. To build a Chinese style hotel. When we started investing, three new hotels were built near us. Why; Because, now they see the marina and that's why they come. So, if he has a passport, he feels safe. Not only to live here, but also to work professionally. There should be a central approval system, which will be linked to the European Union. So, if someone applies for a passport in Hungary, or in Malta, your competitors, or now in Greece, who will start competing in this field, if these countries refuse, the same applies here. There should be strict criteria for issuing passports. I have a case, someone who works for a telecommunications company in another country, which is state-owned, and is automatically a PNP.
I believe that this program should be taken seriously because it is very important for investors, and people who are democratic, who are free, will come, that is why the institution of issuing passports is needed. They come mainly from Russia, China, Middle Eastern countries, countries that are not democratic and free. You may be the richest man in Russia, but Putin can push a button, and the next day, everything disappears.
QUESTION: So the accusations come from competitors, other countries?
I believe that the accusations come from different people. People who are super-nationalists, but without the appropriate background. Because, you are also small in population. And I have a problem with the Turkish invasion. And now they are stealing the gas too. So, first you have to have more people, second, they come from competing countries, Malta, Hungary, Greece, so if your program is successful, they want to stop it. Since the beginning of the program, 3000 passports have been issued. An extremely small percentage. But these 3 million millionaires will pay taxes, and create more, than the minimum they represent in the total population. Do not allow criminals or people with bad reputations to come. They should be subject to scrutiny. With Google today it is easy. You will find me, you will hear good things about me, but also bad things from fanatical religious people. Because I am a Christian, I express my opinion and I do not care what you believe, as long as you respect my religion. You may hear something bad about me, but there is transparency. If I have been judged in my life, this will be on the internet.
QUESTION: The geopolitical map of our region is rapidly evolving into a zone of conflict and international tensions. Are you afraid that this will result in changes in the political geography of the (rich in hydrocarbons) of the Eastern Mediterranean, and perhaps of Egypt?
Yes, look at the world situation. Today, every leader of a peripheral country wants to build an empire. We have the Russian Empire, which is recovering and wants to be the counterweight to the United States, we have the Chinese who want to build their own empire, with the economic power they have, by restricting the freedoms of its citizens, determining what they will see and what they will hear, then you have India, and you have the Ottoman Empire, it has the palace, which cost $ 1 billion, and then it comes to steal your gas, and take on challenges. And what do people do? Zero, Nothing. All these main players, the world is watching them and 9 do not react. And tomorrow, the Turkish army wants to enter Syria. Mr. Trump, another disaster we have, he tells them, okay you can come in, we're leaving. They abandon the Kurds, the people who helped them with the Islamic State, and expel them from Syria, so simply. The other problem we have with leaders today is that living in a crazy world, we have crazy leaders. Like Mr. Trump, like Boris Johnson in Britain, in Italy, the leader of one of the biggest parties in Ukraine, he is good, because he is educated, that's important. We live in an environment where there is Erdogan, who is harassing everyone, you are buying missiles from Russia and they are from America. Everyone saves her with the paranoid acts they commit. Let me ask you something. You live in a house here, and your neighbor steals your house. And you are watching him. How do you feel? Seeing the current escalation with Turkey. Anger is not enough. You should see me when I'm angry.
QUESTION: Egypt is not unaffected by conflicts in the region. What could be the implications for political stability in Egypt? Do you expect there to be a change in your country's leadership? What will be the wider implications for the region?
Of course it is affected. All the unbalanced, the extremists. They live in a cloudy, foggy world. There must be a change of regime in Turkey. Turkey has many good politicians. I hope that these sensible, good politicians will return from America. A group of them now claim that Turkey is not on the right track. In our country the problem is not the government or its change. We need a change in management. We need more freedoms, strengthening the private sector.
Egypt is not unaffected by conflicts in the region. What could be the implications for political stability in Egypt? Do you expect there to be a change in your country's leadership? What will be the wider implications for the region?
QUESTION: As an important player in the region, what role can Egypt play in developments?
I believe that the intergovernmental agreement between Egypt and Greece and Cyprus is very important.
QUESTION: Is there substance in this agreement?
This is the problem. The mistake that politicians make is to meet on their own and come to an agreement on their own. And then, when they implement these agreements, their citizens are not part of these agreements. The agreements could have a greater impact on the world. Imagine if the three leaders, when they meet, have businessmen from Greece, Egypt and Cyprus with them. And they ask them how we can, with these agreements, bring rapid growth to the region. And in this way, leaders are on the right track. Nobody wants a revival of the Turkish Empire. We, as entrepreneurs, have the right to be with the leaders, and to implement these agreements. When the leaders conclude the agreements, which you read about in the newspapers, on this and that issue, I do not see gas or oil being mined. Where are the Europeans? The Turkish ship is conducting investigations, you have ceded the plots to France and Italy, hoping that if the Turks come to steal the gas, they will protect their interests. Where is; You just have to be more discriminating with the help you render toward other people. If it was up to me, the Turkish boat would not stay in the area even for 24 hours.
QUESTION: We are currently watching the provocative second and third invasion of Turkey in the Cyprus Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), in the Cypriot seas. Cyprus is facing this Turkish aggression by building economic cooperation with other countries in the Eastern Mediterranean, including Egypt. What other measures and political actions do you think are needed and will be effective in tackling Turkish aggression?
You have to make noise, fuss. Appeal to the French and Italians and ask for explanations. Cancel the contract with the French company. If I were in charge, I would call the President of France and give him a month to resolve the issue. And if he does not resolve it, then grant permission to me, and I will deal with it. I'm not kidding. You can not watch what is happening carelessly.
QUESTION: It is obvious that Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish leader, the "sultan" as he is often called, envisions the restoration of the Ottoman Empire. A frightening prospect for the region ρείτε Do you consider it possible to any degree to succeed in this vision?
No. The countries of the region will stop him. The people of Cyprus, Egypt, Greece, will stop it, because we do not rely solely on our governments. History does not repeat itself. We are 100 million, Egypt.
QUESTION. At the moment, he can talk and play games with President Trump and Putin.
It has never benefited a country to "play" with both superpowers. What will benefit is to choose which country you will go with. If you do not stop playing this game, then Putin will not consider you a friend, and neither will Trump. And in the end, you will have no friends at all. You have to choose your friends. Let's say you have two friends who are enemies. Can you be friends with both of them? No. This was true a long time ago, but not today. When Israel conquered our country, we went to war, and we won it. And we took our lands back. Only by force. This mentality of colonialism is over, it belongs to history. And he can not return. For example, Saddam Hussein of Iraq when he invaded Kuwait.
QUESTION. Last message to the Cypriots who are watching us
I want to give an optimistic message. You are also human, and I'm glad to be in your country. I feel like one of you. And I came to stay here forever. If you help me with your bureaucrats, I will invest all my money in your country!
QUESTION. Do you have plans for other investments?
Of course. However, we must realize that our government supports us and will address some of the issues we have, so that we can invest even more. Cyprus can become the largest tourist hub in the entire Mediterranean. You will have to attract new categories of tourists, you need a landmark, and you will have to erect a huge statue of the famous sculptor Costa, which will be a landmark. When they see it, the statue with open arms welcoming them, we should do things like this, exciting things. You have all the ingredients that can help you succeed. Good education system, infrastructure, roads, telecommunications, administration, democracy, good courts, to which an investor can turn if he has a problem. God bless your country and I'm glad to be here.