Sawiris backs El-Sisi for Egypt's presidency

Ahram Online, Wednesday 12 Feb 2014

Naguib Sawiris speaks to Al-Ahram Arabic newspaper about army chief El-Sisi's candidacy for president, and the hopes and challenges of the coming period

Naguib Sawiris
Naguib Sawiris (Photo: Al-Ahram).

Egypt's business tycoon and founder of one of the main liberal parties, Naguib Sawiris, says he is backing Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi for the presidency and hopes "he will make up his mind on his candidacy soon."

"Most of the political forces agree on choosing El-Sisi as president… to end the status of confusion, chaos and terrorism that disseminated nationwide," Sawiris said in a lengthy interview published Wednesday in Al-Ahram's Arabic newspaper.

Egypt's military chief, who has grown increasingly popular since the ouster of Islamist former president Mohamed Morsi, is widely expected to announce his candidacy for the presidency after gaining vast popular support and after the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) also backed him, deeming his candidacy a "national duty."

"People considered El-Sisi as a saviour who rescued them from [Muslim Brotherhood] tyranny," Sawiris said.

Sawiris added, however, that candidates would have to present their programmes and that people would choose.

"Everyone is waiting to know [El-Sisi's] political vision, his ideas on the country's polarisation and the suggested themes to eradicate terrorism," Sawiris said.

He also said priorities for the next president should include implementing democracy, accepting criticism, collaborating with political forces, rebuilding the economy and bringing back security and order to the streets.

"We hope the next president would know that he is elected by people and is subject to the supervision of the people and that he will not bring us back to the much dreaded past and dictatorship," he added.

"Black comedy"

Sawiris's relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood soured once they made it into power.

Sawiris used to have the biggest shares in the private TV network OnTV, which took the side of revolutionaries during the popular revolt that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011. Although he stressed that he had nothing to do with the network's editorial content, he was frequently accused of instigating attacks on the Brotherhood through OnTV.

During Islamist president Mohamed Morsi's year in office, Nassef and Onsi Sawiris, Naguib's younger brother and father, were slapped with a travel ban after allegedly evading taxes in a 2007 sale deal of a cement venture owned by Orascom Construction Industries (OCI), which they head. OCI denied any wrongdoing.

Naguib considered this back then as a form of "targeting his family" for political reasons.

In Wednesday's interview, Sawiris said he was offered the post of Cairo governor during Brotherhood rule, but he considered it a "political bribe."

Morsi's era was a "black comedy," Sawiris said. "The Brotherhood considered democracy as a temporary tool that would only be respected until they reach power, and after which, anything else is not important … crushing dissent and diminishing critics from the political map."

Parliamentary ambition

Sawiris also spoke about his party's plans in the parliamentary elections and his suggestions for reviving the economy in the coming period.

His party, the Free Egyptians, was formed in 2011 after the revolution. It was engaged in the biggest opposition coalition against Morsi, the National Salvation Front, which he described as the "a nail in the coffin of the Brotherhood."

"There is great pressure to curtail the role of the political parties," Sawiris said. "A lot of political parties have established a presence among the people, but did not fulfill the hopes of the Egyptians because they are new and could not face a secretive organisation (the Muslim Brotherhood) greatly funded."

Sawiris believes coalitions gathering small parties would be helpful for the country's future and for the upcoming parliamentary elections in summer.

"We hope [the Free Egyptians] get the greatest number of seats (in parliament)," Sawiris said, adding that the elections drive would focus on "attracting figures who did not change their stances since 25 January, reaching popular support in the urban areas and mingling small parties with the same vision."

Sawiris, however, discarded an idea of establishing a party for the upcoming president as one for "hypocrites and those who make advantage from the regime," mimicking the NDP (National Democratic Party) that monopolised the political scene during the Mubarak era.

Being one the most important businessmen in Egypt, Sawiris said he has plans to help revive the economy but would not present them to the current interim cabinet but rather the coming cabinet, because they would take at least four years to implement.

"This government worked in a tough period and held large responsibility ... They had a big challenge of a state that spends more than it gets and depends on aid and loans," Sawiris said.

Sawiris remained positive on the standing of Copts in the new constitution approved last month by 98 percent of voters.

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