Although he may not have been as well known in Belgium as his father Joseph Naus, who had attained cabinet rank in Iran at the turn of the century, Henri Naus played a prominent role in the Egyptian economy during the first four decades of the 20th century. Post-revolutionary writings in Egypt have, however, by and large, ignored him. This study, relying on a variety of sources, is an attempt to "retrieve" the story of his life in Egypt.
Born in Hasselt in 1875, Henri Naus started his professional career as a technician on a Java sugar plantation, and was engaged in 1902 by the "Société Générale des Sucreries et de la Raffinerie d'Egypte", a giant agro-industrial concern mainly in the bands of French shareholders, which enjoyed a virtual monopoly on sugar production in Egypt. He started his career as manager of a sugar factory in Upper Egypt.
Highly susceptible to world market fluctuations, for decades the sugar industry led a precarious economic existence. By importing a new variety of sugar cane from the Dutch East Indies (POJ 105), Naus achieved a breakthrough. Moreover, in 1905, he helped to stave off a crisis in the Sucreries of which he somewhat later became the Director General. The First World War saw large profits.
During the war he was a member of the "Commission du Commerce et de l'Industrie", which outlined Egypt's new economic course. The Commission was headed by Isma'il Sidqi, who was later to become a controversial Prime Minister (1930-1933).
Together with other foreign resident industrialists, and only a few Egyptians, Naus founded the Egyptian Federation of Industries in 1922. He served as its President until his death in 1938. Over the years more and more Egyptian industrialists joined the Federation. As an economic pressure group, the Federation successfully pressed for a protectionist customs tariff, which superseded Egypt's earlier Free Trade principles of British origin. The new tariff introduced in 1930 proved, in fact, to be a turning-point in Egypt's industrial history. In 1931 Naus was able to conclude a convention with the government. This stabilized the Sucreries' existence but also gave the government a larger share in its control.
Though reserved on progressive labour legislation, Naus proved himself to be an outspoken supporter of industrialization for the sake of Egypt's development. In a sense, he saw Egypt as his adopted fatherland. Naus never became directly involved in politics, but consistently supported Egypt's political emancipation.
Naus became involved as a director in a great number of foreign and mixed stock-companies, including some of the largest Belgian interests: Belgian investments in Egypt had ranked third after the French and British in 1900, and remained considerable throughout the period. The Belgian "colony" in Egypt, however, never numbered more than a few hundred residents.
On the public level, Naus was active in favour of the Egyptian University, the Red Crescent, the "Association Internationale d'Assistance Publique" (a pioneering medical first-aid organization), the "Fondation Egyptologique Reine Elisabeth" and other charitable organizations.At the lime of his death in 1938, most of the shares of the Sucreries were already in the bands of Ahmad' Abbud Pasha, an Egyptian tycoon. One might say that Naus was overtaken by a process of "indigenation". Though a street in Cairo was named after him, his memory as well as that of many others of the erstwhile foreign élite in Egypt, was deliberately glossed over by the Revolution of 1952.