- By David KennerDavid Kenner is the Middle East editor at Foreign Policy. He is based in Beirut, Lebanon, and has been with FP since 2009 (a long time, he knows). He worked for FP previously in Cairo, where he covered the early days of the Arab Spring, and before that in Washington. He has attended Georgetown University and the American University of Beirut and has reported from Libya, Egypt, Gaza, Turkey, Lebanon, and Iraq.
CAIRO — It wasn’t long ago that Egypt’s second-richest man was being publicly shamed by his political enemies in the Muslim Brotherhood. So you might think that Naguib Sawiris would never want to see the Brothers back in the seat of power again.
Yet Sawiris, an Egyptian businessman and founder of the liberal Free Egyptians Party, says he wants to get Mohamed Morsy’s clique back into politics, ASAP. He’s also pressing his family to sue for the $1 billion that they feel the Morsy administration unfairly took from them.
"First, [the new government must tackle] national unity and national reconciliation. We need to reach out and get the Muslim Brotherhood back into the political game without any violence," he told Foreign Policy. After that, it will be a matter of getting Egypt’s economic house in order: "[W]e need to confront our people with the truth of our economy — we need to tell them that Egypt is broke, and we cannot continue the subsidies [on energy and food]."
Sawiris was one of the businessmen hostile to the Muslim Brotherhood who was targeted by Morsy during his time in office. The then-president singled out his family by name in an Oct. 6 speech, saying that they owed over $1 billion in back taxes. The Sawiris-owned firm eventually agreed to pay the government; Naguib, however, said that he opposed paying from the beginning and was overruled by his father and brother. Now, he believes his family should challenge the case to prove that it was politically motivated.
"I’m trying to tell my dad and my brother that they should sue and get the money back, and they should donate the money to Egypt. Then it’s cleaner — because we need to show that there is no tax case to start with … it was blackmail, you know," he said.
Sawiris has already been successful in altering the political playing field. He said that he has been active in supporting the Tamarod movement, which gathered millions of signatures for a petition demanding Morsy’s exit from power and was integral in organizing the massive June 30 protests against his rule. Through a spokesman, Sawiris later clarified that his support involved his personal signing of the call for Morsy’s resignation, and using the Free Egyptians Party branch offices and members to collect signatures for the petition.
Nor does the Egyptian businessman see any contradiction between the liberal, democratic values he espouses and the ouster of an elected president. "There is democracy and then there are the rules of democracy. You might be elected democratically, but this doesn’t give you the right to overrule democratic rules," he said, citing Morsy’s November constitutional declaration granting himself sweeping new powers, and his appointment of a sympathetic prosecutor general that pursued legal cases against his opponents.
Whether Egypt’s secular forces can turn Morsy’s missteps into popular support is still an open question. But for the moment, Sawiris believes that his side has the wind to its back. "You can be sure that Egypt’s liberal, secular people are democratic. You can be sure that we are going to fight to implement the right steps — army or no army," he said. "You can be sure that this was not a military coup, because it would be the first military coup in history where 30 million people go to the streets and demand the president to leave."