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Arab businesspeople in Europe: between success and political tension - Daily News Egypt

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Arab businesspeople in Europe: between success and political tension

"My Muslim/Arab status is not only 'justifiable,' but also highly beneficial in the business world, as it is stereotypically associated with wealth," says Abouzid

If life was a movie, he would have been a European citizen that roams the world searching for investments. Nonetheless, in the real world, Ramy Abouzid is an Egyptian businessperson, who decided not to let nationalities and ethnicities map his career.

With the world aching in the face of raging terrorism, Islamophobia is currently a global topic. It is no secret that many Arab citizens have been denied access to certain first-world countries due to their nationality.

Abouzid is specialised in private equity and vintage luxury—two businesses that require spotless reputation and solid trust from the clients’ side. If life was again a movie, especially if it was written after 2011, Abouzid would never have a successful private business. Nonetheless, real life is far from media-made stereotypes.

Daily News Egypt sat with Abouzid to talk global business, Arabs in foreign countries, and the shocks of the Arab spring.

Can you please tell us more about your business?

Growing up, I have always felt that I was meant for more than one purpose; hence, it was very hard to choose a single career path. I began as an asset manager for a notorious financial institution in London and shortly afterwards I started a brokerage firm and a private equity fund. Through these two companies I managed to invest in industries that I am actually passionate about.

What made you specialise in private equity and vintage luxury?

My education in corporate finance and economics made me comfortable enough with the financial-service industry to be able to understand what pulls the strings in society. Money is the key to everything in the business world and whoever says otherwise is either broke or delusional.

The people who handle the money are financiers; therefore, the power of the business world is in the hands of the financiers. Once that realisation is made, and a solid position is established in the industry, one becomes enlightened and life becomes much easier.

As for vintage luxury, I am a huge history lover and generally a very nostalgic person. I have always been fascinated by the preservation of time in things and seeing the contrast between old and new, be it an old Pepsi sign from the drive-in days or an old pocket watch.

Did your nationality and religion force certain limitations on your career, especially since you are commonly known as a socialite in a very exclusive/selective industry? 

For finance, I have to say that being an Arab is a certain advantage. For vintage luxury, it does not really matter. Having been raised in Italy in a very classist society, I came to realise that not being fully Italian in ethnicity was only “justifiable” with exceptional financial and/or social status.

As a kid, I did not realise this connection, because I guess I did not pay attention or did not care at the time. Growing up, however, I connected the dots and I realised that my Muslim/Arab status is not only “justifiable,” but also highly beneficial in the business world, as it is stereotypically associated with wealth.

It is funny how the exact thing that can be damaging in one realm can be beneficial in another.

The past six years have witnessed severe political changes. How did that reflect on your business?

The Arab spring struck at a time in which I was finally considering starting some business ventures in Egypt. I had intended to set up a real estate development fund and a few commercial real estate construction projects, as the only real issues I had ever witnessed in Egypt were the occasional Red Sea terrorism attacks on the tourism industry.

In fact, I truly believed that for such an ever expanding city, my business would have been a home run. I unfortunately came to witness force majeur, at its finest, when the revolution hit. I saw plenty of successful people declare bankruptcy.

Political changes in Egypt restricted my expansion to the Middle East for the time being, as Egypt would have been my entry point. Sadly, it will now have to become the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Arabs tend to create communities when living in foreign countries. Would you say that you collaborate with Arabs more than other nationalities? 

I would say that I collaborate the least with Arabs in Italy, and the most in London. In fact, the two places handle their local Arabs quite differently. Italy handles them with cynicism until proven wealthy and powerful; whereas the UK handles them with optimism until proven broke and powerless.

Islamophobia is currently expressed and discussed openly. As a businessperson based in Europe, how do you keep your business distanced from that?

I do not operate with racist people or people that are narrow minded to the point of having to deal with Islamophobia or any phobia for that matter. I believe that in business, everything is a factor that can affect the general outcome of the product or service.

One bad link and the whole thing becomes messy, and I have learned to expel any bad link from the start. People with Islamophobia are the worst kind of links.

If you were given a platform to raise awareness regarding Islamophobia for a day, what method of communication will you choose and what would be your main concept?

I would put an Arab Muslim and a Christian American, both with perfect English, in a dark room together without letting them know what ethnicity they are. They would not be allowed to reveal names or cultural backgrounds until the end of the session, during which they would be handed certain activities to make them bond.

At the end, they would be presented with the reality after having become friends, and that would prove a lot more than any explanatory video campaign.

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