Guarding Nile City Bringing Riches To Egyptian Commandos

As angry protesters rampaged through Cairo in early 2011 and fought with police, Hesham Samy was dispatched with fellow naval commandos to guard upscale residential compounds. In what he saw as “awful” security, Samy spotted an opportunity.

The officer, who had spent more than a year training with U.S. Navy SEALs, quit last year to set up Firewall Security Consultants. Clients include Paris-based cement maker Lafarge SA (LG), which equips vehicles with Firewall’s cameras, he said, adding he’s also in talks with U.S. companies. His khaki-suited guards, all former paratroopers and commandos, also secure hotels such as the Fairmont Nile City.

Private security is one of the few growth markets in a country where revolution was followed by the deepest economic slump for two decades, and a crime wave. Leaders haven’t been spared: cars carrying the prime minister and central bank chief were attacked.

“Before the revolution, we had to convince companies of the need for security, now we get a lot of requests,” said Ahmed Emam, Egypt president for Swedish security firm Securitas AB (SECUB), who lists Europe’s biggest builder Vinci SA (DG), part of a consortium extending Cairo’s metro lines, among clients. “We’re negotiating for 20 new contracts and getting a lot of individual requests for bodyguard services.”

Protest Hotspots

The metro was targeted last year by armed robbers seeking copper cables. It’s vulnerable because stations are near protest hot-spots such as Tahrir Square. Plain-clothes guards are sometimes sent to gather intelligence ahead of planned protests, according to a security adviser to Vinci, who asked not to be identified as the operations are politically sensitive.

Securitas, the world’s second-biggest guarding services company, targets a 33 percent increase in Egypt revenue this year to as much as 40 million pounds, Emam said. G4S Plc (GFS), the world’s largest security company, cited a “double-digit” jump in revenue from Egypt last year.

An explosion of violence at the Nile City Towers in August helped Firewall win a contract, and illustrated the strains on security in Egypt. The skyscrapers back onto a slum, whose residents demanded payment for what they say was an informal agreement to provide protection during the uprising. When a crowd stormed the Cairo complex seeking money 32-year-old Amr al-Bunni was shot dead by a tourism police officer. After that, Firewall guards were installed at 6,000 Egyptian pounds ($865) a month each, triple the average family income.

Police Strikes

Protests and clashes involving political groups, religious believers and soccer fans, as well as the spread of crime, have tested Egypt’s ability to enforce the law since the uprising that ousted President Hosni Mubarak.

Critics blame his successor, Mohamed Mursi, elected in June, for failing to restore stability. Police officers are dissatisfied too. Hundreds went on strike this year in part to protest what they said was a lack of adequate equipment.

Fear is helping security companies make “billions of pounds a month,” said Adel Soliman, executive manager of the Cairo-based International Center for Future and Strategic Studies. “There is no building, small or large, that doesn’t have private security, even supermarkets. And whoever didn’t have it before, has it now.”