Adli Abadir was born in 1920 to a prominent Upper Egyptian family from Minya. His father, Abadir Pasha, was a renowned judge and his mother, Saniya Kyrillos, came from a Minya landowner family with a nationalist history of resisting the British occupation.
After his marriage to Kyrillos, Abadir Pasha built a palace in an area which later earned the name “Ezbet Abadir” (The Abadir Hamlet). Their children, Anwar, Adli, Maher and Berta were brought up at Ezbet Abadir until they left to study in Cairo. Adli graduated with an engineering degree from Cairo University in 1941.
He went into private business. Among the several companies he established, the most important was the trading company Nacita for the wholesale of tyres and tubes, which he founded in 1944.
Following the Nasserist wave of nationalisation of private business in 1960 Mr Abadir left Egypt for Switzerland where he settled and conducted his business. By that time he was married to Thuraya Bibawi, who came from the Samalout elite, and had three children, Shahira, Magda and Sherif. His story outside Egypt was one of struggle and ultimate success.
Mr Abadir came back to Egypt in the early 1970s following President Anwar al-Sadat’s ‘open door’ economic policy, but had to return to Switzerland in 1986 after the notorious alleged ‘bribery case’ against him. Ever since, he made Zurich his second home.
The late Antoun Sidhom (1915 – 1995), founder of Watani, was a close friend of Adli Abadir. Their friendship may have started with sharing the same interests in Egypt in general and the Coptic file in particular. Watani, which was established in 1958, was their brainchild and the fruit of their work along with a group of other patriotic Egyptians. Mr Abadir always remained supportive of Watani, its cause and its mission. In its golden jubilee celebration in 2008 Watani honoured Mr Abadir with a special award.
Mr Abadir’s wide culture made him a brilliant conversationalist. Up to the end he had a youthful energy and used it to follow up issues concerning Egypt and the Copts.
The landmark website Mr Abadir founded in 2004, www.coptsunited.com, put the concerns of Copts in the centre spotlight. Moreover, the conferences he organised abroad were the turning point in minority issues. These conferences were attended by the elite of intellectuals and activists who contributed by promoting the cause of minorities and highlighting their problems.
Part of me
Watani talked to a number of people who had been close to Mr Abadir. Emmanuel Bekhit, who for more than 15 years was a manager in Mr Abadir’s office described him as a “brave heart” “He used to encourage us by saying, ‘Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul [Matt 10:28]’,” Mr Bekhit said.
“Mr Abadir was the person who chose the name ‘Copts United’,” says the current head of the website, Ezzat Bolous. “Every week he used to write messages to the political representatives in Egypt to tackle the grievances of the Copts. The website published articles by both Muslims and Copts.”
“The website is a part of me,” Mr Abadir used to say. “It has to go on whatever happens.”
Mr Abadir used to read from four to six hours daily. Despite his age, he worked for long hours, often up to 16 hours a day. Even his hospital room was turned into an office complete with computer and fax machine.
Medhat Qilada, who acted as the tycoon’s media consultant and accompanied him to the end, told Watani that Mr Abadir always used to say: “I am sad because Egypt doesn’t deserve all that.” Mr Qelada recalls. He generously helped the marginalised and poor in Egypt, but always performed his good deeds anonymously.”
Watani travelled to Minya to delve into the roots of the Abadirs. Our journey began in Deir Mawwas, the home town of his mother. It was difficult to find anyone who had lived there at the time, but eventually we were introduced to Moussa Raphael, who was born in 1928 and who had been the bailiff.
Raphael has lost his sight and has hearing problems, but his memory is still as sharp as can be. He talked to Watani about the Kyrilloses and the Abadirs.
Heshmat Pasha—Saniya Kyrillos’s brother—was born in 1902. He studied in Cairo until 1919, when on the death of his father he went home to manage his and his sister’s property, which exceeded 700 feddans. His palace is intact to this day, but Adli donated it to the Bishopric of Deir Mawwas in 1980.
Raphael first met the family in 1938. “They were on very good terms with the authorities and were very generous and kind to the poor, Muslims and Christians alike,” Raphael says. “In the 1960s, part of the Kirillos property was taken away from them. Saniya was very close to her brother as well as being a major partner. She was extremely generous towards the poor of Deir Mawwas, even after she got married and moved to Ezbet Abadir. The amounts she used to donate back then were large enough to open up new businesses.”
Adli inherited his mother’s sense of generosity and loyalty. “He used to visit Ezbet Abadir every three months,” Raphael recalls. “In 1986, after he was unjustly convicted in a bribery case, he left Egypt for Switzerland never to come back home. It was his brother Mr Maher who managed his work for him in Egypt after his departure. But his heart remained in Egypt where he still felt for the poor and never stopped aiding them anonymously.”
Watani moved to Abadir Pasha’s birthplace, the village of Sharmoukh, Minya, where we spoke to Hajj Mustafa Sharmoukh.
Abadir Pasha grew up in the village, and on his marriage he built Ezbet Abadir just 3kms away. A few members of the family still live here. Mr Sharmoukh took us to the Ezbet Abadir, which stood still splendid and impressive with its particular style. The palace stands on three feddans and is surrounded by a fence, but it was closed and we had to be content with strolling round the perimeter. This gave us a chance to meet some of the farmers and security men, who recounted stories of Mr Adli’s generosity to their parents.
Watani then headed for the house of the village mayor, the umda, Ahmed Mohamed Youssef. He was astounded to hear of Mr Adli’s death and described it as “a great loss”.
Roughly 25 Muslim and Christian families used to live near Ezbet Abadir, and all were very well treated by Abadir Pasha and, after his death, by Mr Adli. “The young Mr Abadir was very close to my father and he was very generous to all the village poor, even though he was living in Cairo back then,” Mr Youssef told us. “We really missed him after he moved to Switzerland. He was full of brains and love for Egypt, and we are all proud of him.”
Mr Youssef said it was a pity that Adli Abadir was unjustly convicted in the bribery case which made Egypt lose him for ever. “Mr Abadir was never in need of bribe money; he was one of the richest men in Egypt.”
“We, his people, never lost faith in him,” the umda said.