The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Enter Nassef

Finally, Nassef Sawiris has moved out of the shadow of his brothers who made a lot of headlines with their emerging markets telecoms empire (Naguib) and Swiss alpine village (Samih), while Nassef’s Orascom Construction Industries (OCI) maintained such a low profile it could (reportedly) do business with the Pentagon and North Korea at the same time.

Now, France’s Lafarge has bought OCI’s cement operations in a 14.9 billion dollar deal, and in return Nassef gets an 11.4 pct stake in Lafarge plus two seats on the company’s board of directors.

Analysts say OCI wants to focus on construction and infrastructure, but – as you can never quite separate business from politics in the Middle East – I’m wondering whether the Sawiris’ truly believe the Middle Eastern cement boom is over or whether we’re rather seeing a long-term strategy of the three brothers to move part of their assets away from Egypt (and the Middle East).

Their relations with the ruling family don’t seem to be as strong as in the case of other Egyptian business tycoons (which means the impact of Mubarak’s death will not be as strong), but I guess we’ll have to wait for the full picture (on this one as on so many other things) until the Pharao has moved on to another life.

In any case, the proceeds from the sale will be paid out to shareholders as special dividend – i.e. mostly to the Sawiris themselves.

I’m wondering what the brothers are up to with so much cash.