Sawiris pledges to hire detained minor smugglers following online controversy

Egyptian business tycoon Naguib Sawiris has pledged to hire six minors who were detained in Ismailia for smuggling on Thursday, after a video of the adolescents being interviewed sparked widespread controversy on social media.

Online social media users in Egypt were outraged by the questions asked by host Salwa Hussein in the video, which went viral after being posted on the official Facebook page of Port Said governorate, of an interview of six minors detained over the alleged smuggling of foreign goods.

The boys were filmed handcuffed to each other in pairs, and lined up next to each other.

Social media users, along with Sawiris, criticised Hussein for her poor management of the dialogue with the teenagers and over her statement to them that they should have made “an honest living” rather than being “smugglers”.

The video depicts the host asking the six detainees why they decided to work illegally, with the responses from the minors ranging from “no one else wanted to hire me” to “I came to Ismailia for work, but I couldn’t find anything except for this job.”

Most of the detainees were from different governorates such as the Nile Delta’s Fayoum governorate and Upper Egypt’s Sohag, which may help explain why they found difficulty finding gainful employment in Ismailia.

At the end of the interview, the last detainee asks the host what job he should be working, to which the host responded that many cleaning companies across Egypt are hiring for EGP 50 per day.

He responded with: “What could I do with EGP 50? Would it feed my three sisters and mother? I made EGP 150 while smuggling. The situation is hard.”

At one point, the presenter asked the boys: “Why didn’t you go to investment [sic]?”

The question, assumed by many on social media to be a reference to investing, provoked controversy and sarcastic responses on Twitter.

The presenter may however have been referring to the Ismailia Free Zone, one of several economic zones around the country which offer favourable conditions and tax breaks to companies operating within their boundaries with the aim of encouraging investment.

The National Council for Childhood and Motherhood addressed the prosecutor-general and vowed to take all necessary legal actions.

Sawiris also tweeted on Friday that he has retained lawyers to assist the minors’ legal situation.

“I have sent a lawyer to the customs authority for reconciliation and, if possible, to free them and hire them,” tweeted Sawiris.

According to the latest CAPMAS report issued in May, about 3 million Egyptians are currently unemployed, with Egyptians between the ages of 15 and 29 making up 75.2 percent of that figure.

President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi has pledged to reduce unemployment during his tenure through attracting foreign investments to stimulate the economy.

Since 2014, the government has been implementing a set of economic reforms to lower budget deficits, including floating the local currency, cutting energy subsidies, and instituting a value-added tax.

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