THE decision by Egypt’s general prosecutor to place the country’s wealthiest man and his business-tycoon father on a no-fly list sent the main stock index tumbling by 2.3%—the worst drop in a month. The travel ban on Nassef and Onsi Sawiris imposed on March 3rd led secular opposition groups to accuse Egypt's Islamist government of pursuing a vendetta against the liberal opposition. It seemed to signal President Mohamed Morsi's intention to prosecute businesses he believes benefitted from widespread corruption during the rule of Hosni Mubarak.
It was not the first travel ban for Onsi Sawiris, the octogenarian founder of the Orascom Group, Egypt’s largest private employer. Mr Sawiris’ first small construction company was nationalised under Gamal Abdel Nasser in the 1960s, and he was prevented from leaving the country for six years. He moved to Libya in 1971 but returned five years later, founding Orascom, which grew into a multinational conglomerate that he passed on to his three sons, turning all four men into billionaires.
The Sawiris family, who are Coptic Christians, have been at odds with Mr Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood-led government since Egypt's revolution. Naguib Sawiris, Onsi’s outspoken eldest son, said in an interview on Egyptian television on March 5th that his family was being "deliberately targeted" by the government. He said his father and brother believe that the tax case against them arose when ONTV, a satellite channel that he used to own, came out against the Islamists.