Naguib Sawiris launches liberal ‘Free Egyptians Party’

Telecommunications tycoon Naguib Sawiris announced the launch of the liberal Free Egyptians Party at a press conference on Sunday.

Sawiris, who is among Egypt's best-known businessmen, said that he will not head the party and called on all new political powers to work hard during the “challenging and defining” five month period before parliamentary elections in September.

The new party’s stated principles are democracy and freedom, civil state and equality between all citizens, the empowerment of women to participate in all fields, an independent judiciary, and a separation between legislative and executive bodies.

The party aims at encouraging economic, social, and scientific progress in Egypt and maintaining the dignity of all Egyptians, whether located inside and outside the country.

In October, Sawiris stepped back from the management of his business in order to focus on political and social activities. In the weeks after the January 25 revolution, which lead to the resignation of former President Hosni Mubarak, Sawiris served on the so-called Council of Wise Men, a group charged with mediating between the government and youth-led opposition movements.

Sawiris, whose personal wealth is estimated at US$2.5 billion, funded a campaign calling for a "no" vote in last month’s referendum on constitutional amendments. He is active in a number of other political organizations.

When a TV talk show host asked Sawiris in an earlier interview if he was funding the Free Egyptians Party, he replied that he, like every other member, had the right to contribute as much as he wanted.

Under the slogan “We build the future together to restore Egypt’s glory,” the party aspires to building a free market economy while maintaining an atmosphere of social justice. It also hopes to build new institutions and legislative structures that lead to stability and respect for the rule of law.

“I support all parties based on civilian values, not those that want to bring us back to the ancient times. I don’t differentiate between Muslims and Christians,” said Sawiris in an apparent dig at Egypt’s Islamist movements. He urged Egyptians to join any party that they believe in, and not necessarily his.

Easing concerns that the party would reflect Sawiris’ Christian religion, he said that the party is not Coptic and that currently, most of its members are Muslims. He said he demands that each Coptic citizen who joins bring along two Muslims.

The party believes that Article 2 of the Constitution, which states that Islam is the religion of the state, should remain in place.

So far, the party has around 1000 members; necessary minimum required for official registration is 5000. After securing the minimum number, the party intends to elect a president and vice president. Sawiris will not compete for either position, and will instead serve on the party’s own "board of wise men."

A number of notable public figures have already joined the Free Egyptians Party, including poet Ahmed Fouad Negm, the writers Mohamed Selmawy and Gamal el-Gheitany, and businessman Khaled Bishara.

Sawiris and other party members intend to undertake a promotional tour of Egypt, with the goal of establishing 43 branches across all governorates. The tour will begin next week with a trip to Aswan, Luxor and Sohag.

Sawiris is chairman of the telecommunications company Orascom Telecom Holding (OTH). He launched Egypt’s first mobile telephone operator in 1998 and two satellite television channels in 2007.

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