On Friday, May 4, 2012, Naguib Sawiris, founder of the Free Egyptians Party, delivered the keynote address to attendees of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s 2012 Weinberg Founders Conference. The following is a collection of excerpts from his remarks.
To read the full transcript, click here.
To watch the full video recording of his address, click here.
“I would like to take a few minutes to reiterate some of the facts, because I don’t think that all the facts are very clear here in the States, you know.
…The important fact is that what we call Islamists today did not join this revolution from the beginning. They jumped [in] four days later, after the twenty-fifth of January, when they felt it’s going to work. And all the young people, and the liberal people, and all different kinds of people were in the Square, and they thought: they’ve done their job, the Mubarak regime failed, we need to go home now, and [they] left—and the revolution was hijacked.”
The general feeling in Egypt is that the army actually decided that it should [make] a deal with the Islamists…. And we, the secular, liberal parties, were confronted with a completely unfair fight…. We started to try to form liberal parties, but the fact was we had three, four months to build a party, and we moved against a party which was working underground for eighty years. If someone would ask me today, what’s the biggest thing you blame Mr. Mubarak [for], or hate Mr. Mubarak for, I would say the fact that he [did] not allow all the liberal, secular parties to exist while his party was there—because we would have then been trained, we would have then been politicians, and we would have been able to compete fairly in a democratic process. So, if you think that the democracy in Egypt resulted in the Islamists’ winning, it is not correct. The fact is that the Islamists had the backing of the army, that the whole election process was tailored to give advantage to the parties that are of a [certain] size and that are more organized. The districts were enlarged. The fact that you could choose 70 percent from the parties and only 30 percent from individuals… Having no experience, we said it doesn’t really matter. But it mattered. As a result, the liberal parties—and this is a very nice mathematical issue—the liberal parties actually got 11 million voters and the Islamists got 13 million. So, mathematically, we should have been at 45 percent in the parliament. I don’t know why we ended up with 15 or 20 [percent]. Because the system which was pushed said that any party that doesn’t get 5 percent, this number will go to the highest party.”
“My analysis is that the Muslim Brothers think, okay, if we want it, we have to take it. Now, we have this parliamentary situation, so we have the legitimacy. We have to use it to complete the story and take the country. . . . I like to give the example of Iran, you know. Because, you know, if you looked at Iran’s Islamic Revolution in the beginning, it was the young people, it was against oppression, and so on. And suddenly [Ayatollah Ruhollah] Khomeini came with the parachute, and that was it—for thirty years. And [the Brotherhood goes] and they say publicly that we want to establish an Islamic caliphate. And we are not bound to Egypt. And we want to do all that—and this and that. And where do we go, the liberals, you know? We actually feel that we have been let down by the United States, for example, because every senator and congressman who comes goes to Tahrir Square, takes a nice picture with the kids in Tahrir Square, meets the head of the Muslim Brotherhoods [gestures, shaking a hand], and thinks things are okay. Where is the support—no support was granted to the liberal, the secular, people who don’t want this situation. You know, we don’t see that. We see that they really believe what’s happening in Egypt is a democracy. It is not. And right now, you know, all of what you are seeing now . . . The mess you are seeing right now is coming from that, because a lot of people in Egypt today are worried. They feel that the Muslim Brotherhood wants it all and that they will all be oppressed, and that the situation will be very, very dangerous. Also, you can trust what they say, if you want. You want to say that we are going to be nice to the Israelis, we are going to respect [the] Camp David [Accords], we actually like Americans—and they meet . . . So I think, good for you.”
“First the law said we will not allow any religious parties. The law, our law, says that. So what do we get in the end? A Salafi party and a Muslim Brotherhood party. If this is not religious, what is religious? When I made my party, the first thing I made sure about is that the party is mostly made of Muslims. The majority of the Free Egyptian Party are Muslims. And why? Because, as a Christian, I did not want to go and [make] a Christian party. Or I am playing the same game they are playing. I am a secular, liberal person, and therefore we avoided that, but this is what happened, you know. We have two religious parties now.”
“The fact is, I am completely worried about Egypt. I am not so optimistic. I am sure you are looking at what’s happening now. What is this last event that is happening today? What is happening is clearly an attempt by the Muslim Brotherhood to show the army, “We want it all, we will get it all, and you have no choice but to play ball with us now.” So, what does the army feel? The army feels, well, they created this monster. Now it’s becoming bigger than they thought it would become, and they don’t know what to do.”
“Ok, so maybe just a few words on the candidates for the presidency… Mr. Amr Moussa, who is someone you all know, and who I believe most liberals will support today, not because we believe in him—because we would have believed in the young guys who died in Tahrir Square, who died by the police, who went and did this revolution . . . We were hoping for someone younger from the new generation to lead this country, but okay, this is it, we’re stuck now between this or that.
…In the presidential election, I believe we have, actually, three presidential candidates. One is the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Mr. Morsi. I don’t think he will win, because Egyptians don’t vote for people with no sense of humor— and also because he lacks the charisma that is needed. So there’s another charismatic guy, which is Dr. Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, who I must say is a very honest, nice man. He’s a doctor by nature. He has a very good track record of being always with the [revolutionaries] and so on. But he is one of the founders of the Muslim Brotherhood movement. So, some of my fellow liberals believe that he’s liberal. I don’t believe that, because I always feel very worried. In my building in Egypt, no priest can come and go up to our offices, because we think this is a place to work. If I went to pray, I would go to the church… But, unfortunately, I believe that the two highest contenders will be Dr. Aboul Fotouh and Mr. Amr Moussa. And, I think, in the second round, all the Islamists will unite behind Mr. Aboul Fotouh, and maybe he will be then the winner.”
“I don’t see any big surprises happening—that is, if the elections take place. Because you can ask yourself: why are [thousands of] people demonstrating today, trying to invade the Ministry of Defense, when we are four weeks [away from] the presidential elections? Does that make sense? In four weeks, we will have a presidential election. Why—it’s not clear. It’s just a demonstration of power—power struggle, and so on—and, as I said, some of the anarchists and some liberal parties joined this today. I don’t know why.”