Who Is the Egyptian Tycoon Accused of Charging Palestinians to Escape Gaza? - The World News

Who Is the Egyptian Tycoon Accused of Charging Palestinians to Escape Gaza?

He is an Egyptian mogul who is little known outside the region.

The tycoon, Ibrahim al-Organi, chairman of Organi Group, oversees a vast network of companies involved in construction, real estate and security. He maintains close connections to top Egyptian officials, three people who have tracked the relationship and who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect their work in the region.

But it is Hala — a company that Organi Group has listed as one of its own — that has drawn the most scrutiny. Hala has emerged as a lifeline for Palestinians who are trying to escape war-torn Gaza but has also been accused of squeezing desperate people with exorbitant fees. In an interview this month, Mr. Organi spoke at length and in detail about Hala’s activities, though he said that his role in the company was limited and that he was just one of many shareholders.

Officials at Hala did not respond to questions sent by email.

Hala had long been listed on Organi Group’s website as one of the conglomerate’s companies, but the reference appeared to have been removed recently. Organi Group did not respond to a request for comment about why it had removed Hala from the website.

Organi Group has at least eight businesses. The company lists Mr. Organi as its chairman and his son, Essameldin Organi, as the chief executive.

The older Mr. Organi, according to the company’s website, has built “a diverse business empire acting as an inseparable backbone to the Egyptian economy in countless fields.”

In the interview in his office in Cairo, Mr. Organi described Hala as a tourism company, “just like any company that exists at an airport.” It was set up in 2017, he said, to provide V.I.P. services to Palestinian travelers who wanted an upgraded experience crossing through Rafah, the southernmost city in Gaza.

According to people who paid for its services during the war, Hala has charged most Gazans older than 16 years $5,000, and most of those younger than 16 half that, $2,500, to coordinate their exits. They also said V.I.P. service was missing.

Mr. Organi says Hala charges $2,500 per adult — and nothing for children.

Mr. Organi was born in 1974 in the Egyptian border town of Sheikh Zuweid near Gaza.

He says he is merely a shareholder or partner in any companies with business relating to Gaza. But in the interview, he said his companies played a key role in the reconstruction in Gaza, including the removal of rubble, after a previous round of war between Israel and Hamas in 2021.

His Instagram account features several videos that show earth-moving equipment clearing destroyed buildings in Gaza City in 2021. Text below many videos note that the work was being carried out based on the “instructions from President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.”

Mr. Organi also leases trucks to aid groups transporting supplies into the territory and procures some of those same supplies.

Weeks after the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack in Israel that led to the war, Mr. Organi appeared at the border between Egypt and Gaza and pledged to support Palestinians in Gaza.

“We won’t hesitate,” he said in remarks broadcast by the Egyptian news media. “They are our brothers.”

Mr. Organi also says he is in talks about potentially participating in Gaza’s reconstruction after the war.

Mr. Organi has maintained close relationships with members of the Egyptian government, using his influence to advance his business interests, according to two diplomats familiar with the matter.

He was already a well-known businessman in Sinai when he rose to prominence in the 2010s after he partnered with the Egyptian military to fight militants in the peninsula who claimed affiliation with the Islamic State.

In the interview, Mr. Organi said he had led the Sinai Tribes’ Union, a state-backed group that helped to fight the militants in the peninsula.

“God helped us gather the tribes again under the banner of the Union and put me as the head,” he said. “We decided to help the government wipe out terror groups completely.”

In 2022, Mr. el-Sisi appointed Mr. Organi as one of two nongovernment members on the Sinai Development Authority, which is responsible for development initiatives in the peninsula. Mr. Organi recently announced that he, along with other tribal figures, would build a city named for Mr. el-Sisi in Sinai.

He said that did not mean he had a special relationship with the president, and that others were involved.

“We are known for strongly supporting President Sisi and we love him,” Mr. Organi said, “but it’s not that we are the only ones.”

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