Egyptian investor Samih Sawiris has been given a certificate of honorary citizenship by canton Uri in central Switzerland for his achievements for tourism in the resort of Andermatt.This content was published on June 5, 2021 - 11:53
The 64-year-old billionaire was actually granted honorary citizenship last year, but the ceremony had to be postponed because of the Covid-19 pandemic. It finally took place on Friday in a small setting in the Tellspielhaus (William Tell theatre) in Uri’s capital, Altdorf.
“With initiative, entrepreneurial spirit and an enormous financial commitment, Sawiris has rendered outstanding services to canton Uri,” said Olympic skiing champion Bernhard Russi, possibly Andermatt’s most famous son, who himself had worked on Sawiris’s project.
Honorary citizenship of Uri is rare – the previous recipient was entrepreneur Max Dätwyler 19 years ago. Sawiris is the first foreigner to receive honorary citizenship, which is not the same as naturalisation. Sawiris has dual citizenship of Egypt and Montenegro.
Nevertheless, the decision in May 2020 to honour him was far from unanimous – only 30 members of the local government backed it, 14 rejected it and six abstained. One reason was comments Sawiris had made criticising the federal government’s response to Covid-19.
It is undeniable, however, that Sawiris has given a considerable boost to Andermatt and the region. Andermatt, a former garrison town of the Swiss army, was facing an uncertain future in 2005 when the army left. Sawiris then appeared with his idea of building a luxury resort on the military base.
By no means everyone was enthusiastic. Some saw the environment and farming at risk, others considered Sawiris’s plans too big and unrealistic. However, Sawiris, who always appeared smiling and relaxed in public – and who speaks excellent German having studied engineering in Berlin – was persistent and conciliatory.
The construction from 2009 of expensive hotels – such as The Chedi, often rated one of the best hotels in Switzerland – and holiday apartments triggered a wave of renewal in Andermatt. Sawiris also built a golf course, an indoor swimming pool and a concert hall. The ski resort was modernised, expanded and merged with that of Sedrun in neighbouring canton Graubünden. In total, Sawiris invested CHF1.1 billion ($1.2 billion) and created 700 additional jobs.
What’s more, his plans for Uri are not finished: he wants to build two marinas in artificial bays in Flüelen and Isleten on Lake Uri.