Onsi Sawiris
Onsi Sawiris Image Credit: Sawiris Foundation

Dubai: Onsi Sawiris, the head of a family of billionaire businessmen who launched multinational companies under the Orascom umbrella, has died. He was 90.

His death in the Egyptian resort city of El Gouna was announced Tuesday by the Sawiris family, which didn't give a cause.

Born in 1930, Sawiris was raised in Sohag, Upper Egypt. The son of a lawyer, he received an engineering degree from Cairo University and started his own construction firm in 1950, which grew over the following decade to become one of the country's largest contractors, building roads and waterways.

The business was nationalized in 1961 by President Gamal Abdel Nasser, and renamed El Nasr Civil Works Company. Frustrated at being reduced to an employee at his own firm, he left for Libya where he built a new general contracting company. As relations between Libya and Egypt frayed, he moved home in the 1970s and started anew, founding Orascom Construction Industries.

Strategic alliances

Through partnerships with international companies working on local projects, Orascom grew to be one of the largest private builders in Egypt by the mid-1990s.

Onsi diversified the business into telecommunications, real estate and fertilizer. By 1990, Orascom had evolved into three separate operating companies: Orascom Telecom, headed by his oldest son, Naguib, Orascom Development and Hotels, led by middle son Samih, and Orascom Construction Industries, that was overseen by the youngest, Nassef.

Sawiris was also a philanthropist, establishing a foundation for social development, as well as a scholarship programme that enabled talented Egyptian students to study abroad while committing to working in the North African country after graduation.

Sawiris is survived by his wife Yousriya, three sons and 13 grandchildren.

His son Nassef Sawiris is Egypt's richest person through his $7.1 billion fortune, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.