Businessmen fleeing Syria as violence escalates
With mounting violence in Syria, a large number of businessmen have started transferring their money and business to Egypt, Turkey’s state Anatolia News Agency reported this week.
The businesses, established by Syrian entrepreneurs range from real estate, stock market investments, to smaller projects and retail sales.
“The top 10 Syrian businessmen have fled to Egypt in the past few days,” said Khalil al-Egeili, a Syrian activist living in Egypt. “I cannot, however, say their names.”
Egeili explained that most Syrian businessmen who fled their homeland preferred to settle down in Egypt where they transfer their money and start new businesses.
“Millions of dollars have been deposited in Egypt by Syrian businessmen but it is hard to know the exact amounts.”
According to Egeili, one third of the Syrian economy was transferred to Egypt following the eruption of the revolution.
“Many businessmen preferred to invest in the stock market or deposit their money in the banks until they see how things will turn out.”
Syrian investments in Egypt are estimated at $400-500 million, while others argue they exceed those amounts.
Nezar al-Kharat, a Syrian businessman and head of the Egyptian branch of the Syrian Revolution Coordination Committee, said that a large number of businessmen came to Egypt after the regime started targeting their companies and factories.
“Most of those are from Aleppo and they are now working on establishing a union for Syrian businessmen in Egypt.”
According to Bassem al-Kwaifi, a Syrian investor living in Egypt, former head of the Damascus Chamber of Commerce, and member of the Syrian Transitional Council, the number of Syrian businessmen coming to Egypt has doubled in the past three months.
“A lot Syrian investors preferred to start small and medium projects with the money they brought.”
Kwaifi estimated the percentage of Syrian businessmen who fled to Egypt at 30% of their total number (about 50,000 businessmen).
Although some go to the Gulf region or Europe, Kwaifi explained, most Syrian businessmen prefer Egypt for many reasons.
“It is easy to enter Egypt and get a residence permit and there is also a lot of cheap labor.”
Kwaifi noted that billionaires known for their close ties to the Syrian regime preferred going to other countries.
He explained that among the most common projects Syrians started in Egypt were restaurants, cafes, tailor shops, and textile factories.
According to Khaldoun al-Mowakaa, head of the Syrian Egyptian Business Council, Syrian investments in Egypt exceed $500 million, basically concentrated in textile and clothing.
“These businesses were started in several industrial cities across Egypt,” he said in a press statement.
Ahmed Ghanam, member of the Damascus Chamber of Industry and a refugee in Egypt, said that most middle class Syrians in Egypt live in the suburbs of Cairo while laborers live in working class areas.
“Many of the middle class refugees started projects that cost 500,000 - 600,000 Egyptian pounds.”
However, Ghanam added, transferring money from Syria is not always easy owing to the obstacles imposed by the Syrian regime.
“That is why most of the money was transferred from Lebanese banks.”
Abdel Aziz al-Saedi, branch manager of the Societe Arabe Internationale De Banque (SAIB), said that banks have witnessed a remarkable increase in Syrian deposits.
“Egyptian banks offer a lot of facilities for Syrian refugees. For example, they are not required to submit residence documents to open an account.”
In addition to Lebanese banks, he said, several transfers are also made from Saudi Arabian banks.
The Syrian Investment Authority revealed that Syrian investments have decreased by 74 percent between January and September 2012 not only because of the conflict between the regime and the opposition, but also owing to the sanctions imposed on several sectors of the Syria economy.