By Abdel Qader Ramadan, Doaa Farid and Sara Aggour
The decision to close Seoudi and Zad supermarkets was made to put them under state custody, and not to nationalise, confiscate, or seize them, Minister of Supply and Internal Trade Khaled Hanafy said in a Sunday statement.
The minister added that these branches have been put under the supervision of the Egyptian Company for Wholesale Trade, a subsidiary of the state-owned Food Industries Holding Company.
On Sunday, police forces raided the Seoudi supermarkets chain, owned by allegedly Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Abdelrahman Al-Seoudi, and closed its branches. Also shutdown was supermarket chain Zad, owned by the Muslim Brotherhood’s deputy leader Khairat El-Shater.
In September, the North Cairo Criminal Court upheld a decision by the prosecutor general to freeze assets of prominent Muslim Brotherhood leaders along with several other Islamist politicians.
State-run MENA reported in May that a committee tasked with assessing the Brotherhood’s financial resources had frozen the assets of 30 of its members, 12 associations controlled by the Brotherhood and several of the companies it owned.
“The rights of all employees in these shops will be preserved, and the shops will be managed with the same philosophy used to manage the consumer cooperatives, meaning goods will be offered at discounted prices for citizens in a way that the capital owners and shareholder are not harmed,” said Hanafy.
The minister said the branches, about 40 in total, will be opened and operating again once inventory operations have been carried out to examine the goods inside the shops, expected to take about four days.
The Egyptian Company for Wholesale Trade will establish an “independent management affiliate” to manage the Seoudi and Zad branches, and the revenues of these branches will be transferred to special bank accounts, said Ayman Salem, chairman of the company.
The committee to assess and manage Brotherhood funds commissioned on Saturday the Egyptian Wholesale Company to take custody of and administer 40 branches of Seoudi and Zad supermarkets, the chairman said.
According to Salem, the company will use revenues from the branches under their custody to pay for workers’ salaries and to buy the necessary products for the continued operation of the branches.
The Egyptian Company for Wholesale Trade, according to Salem, started inventory for branches of the two companies on Sunday. He expects them to be re-opened “within 48 to 72 hours.”
“All payments owed to employees and their salaries are preserved,” said Salem, adding that “the issue here is only about financial management, so the existing financial administration, particularly in Seoudi shops, is what is being put under our supervision.”
Salem noted that the company seeks to keep Seoudi’s management to preserve the supermarket’s characteristics. The case will be different for Zad, Salem noted, as Wholesale Trade intends to offer a range of products at reduced prices.
“Zad’s management was waiting for this measure, so over recent months it had not supplied additional products,” said Salem.
Workers in Seoudi supermarket were surprised by the shutdowns.
At the supermarket’s branch in Dokki, Giza, employees stated that they did not understand the shutdowns. “We do not know the reason behind this,” said one employee. “We were surprised by police raiding the branch and shutting it down.”
This is not the first time in Egypt’s recent history when the government has confiscated businesses of Brotherhood members. In February 1992, security forces raided Salsabeel Company for computer services, owned by Brotherhood leaders Khairat El-Shater and Hassan Malek, arrested El-Shater and closed the company.
According to the official Brotherhood website Ikhwanwiki, the case aimed to limit the activities of the group. Businessmen who were close to then-president Hosni Mubarak wanted to take over the computers business and therefore stopped El-Shater’s business, Ikhwanwiki claimed.
The 23 September court ruling ordering the disbandment of the Muslim Brotherhood has raised questions about its potential effects on Brotherhood-owned businesses, especially as it also orders the confiscation of the organisation’s capital.
The court ordered the “the banning of the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Arab Republic of Egypt and activities emanating from it, the organisation and any other institution which branched from it, belonged to it or received financial support or any kind of support from it.”
The urgent matters court also ordered the confiscation of “all real estate funds, liquid and transmitted, whether owned by or leased to the Muslim Brotherhood.”