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Egypt's new crackdown on powerful businessmen sparks criticism

The arrest of the owner of a major chain of stores in Egypt follows a pattern of arrests of influential businessmen once allied with the Sisi government
Sayed Sowerky's Al-Tawhid wel Noor stores, selling household items and clothing, are found across Egypt (Screengrab/Social media)

The arrest of a prominent Egyptian businessman and owner of a popular chain of stores has prompted criticism of the government's targeting of influential businessmen perceived as allies of the opposition.  

Sayed Sowerky, the owner of a chain of stores called Al-Tawhid wel Noor, was arrested on Thursday and held in pretrial detention pending investigations into supporting opposition group the Muslim Brotherhood, branded by the government as a terrorist organisation. 

Sowerky's stores can be found across Egypt, and are known for selling household items and clothing at reasonable prices. 

The arrest of Sowerky came days after the arrest of businessman Safwan Thabet, the owner of Juhayna, one of the biggest dairy and food companies in Egypt. He was arrested on 2 December and was also charged with financing a terrorist organisation. 

It remains unclear whether the arrests were politically motivated, but pro-state media has accused the two businessmen of supporting the banned Brotherhood. 

Thabet's financial and real-estate assets had already been frozen by authorities as part of the crackdown on the Brotherhood, despite his donation of 50m Egyptian pounds to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's Tayha Misr development fund. 

'Egypt has become a terrorist group'

The arrest of the businessmen has sparked accusations that Sisi's crackdown on his opposition is indiscriminate, and that "all of Egypt has become a terrorist group".

Translation: Mr Sowerky, the owner of Al-Tawhid wel Noor, was arrested on the charge of joining a terrorist organisation - days before businessman Safwan Thabet, owner of Juhayna, was arrested on the same charges. And before that, businessman Salah Diab. It’s no longer just politicians, journalists and human rights defenders who get arrested, all of Egypt has become a terrorist group. 

Some have suggested that the crackdown on business owners was an attempt by the Egyptian government to "nationalise" companies. 

Translation: After Safwan Thabet and Juhayna and the accusations of them joining a terrorist group…the regime arrested Sowerky, the owner of Al-Tawhid wel Noor, on charges of financing terrorism. It seems that the army has decided to start trading thobes and has their eye on Al-Tawhid wel Noor to nationalise it. Egypt is not suitable for investments. 

Translation: The entire Egyptian population knows that that Mr Sowerky … and Safwan Thabet … do not have anything to do with terrorism and or any involvment in politics. The truth is that the military have decided to nationalise Egypt, and have got their hands on all of the big companies. 

Many activists and human rights commentators have highlighted that the Egyptian government often uses "terror lists" or vague terror-related charges to quell dissent.

Those added to the lists since 2015 include late President Mohamed Morsi, footballer Mohamed Aboutrika, former presidential candidate Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, journalist Hisham Gaafar and, most recently, former MP Zyad el-Elaimy and Egyptian-Palestinian activist Ramy Shaath.